Military benefits open enrollment, also known as open season, is an annual chance for those who use a variety of health and life insurance services to change their coverage or pick a new provider.
In the civilian world, open enrollment has been a regular event for decades. But the U.S. military and Department of Veteran Affairs only started holding them in the last decade as a way to expand coverage options while also managing how military members, retirees, veterans and their families move in and out of programs.
So which programs have open season or open enrollment periods? Here's everything you need to know.
FEDVIP Open Season
The Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) open season enrollment lets military retirees purchase optional dental and vision insurance while also allowing active-duty military families to access optional vision insurance. Instead of FEDVIP, active-duty families can purchase dental coverage through Tricare.
FEDVIP has long provided those insurance coverages for federal civilian employees. But starting in 2018, it became available for enrollment for etirees and military families as the Tricare Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) went away and a new law expanded vision insurance options for both user groups.
That means retirees and their families and active-duty military families can use FEDVIP to access coverages. For retirees, that means choosing through a marketplace system from about six nationwide and four regional dental plans to find the coverage that best fits their needs. Those FEDVIP providers cover services like exams, cleanings, X-rays, fillings, extractions and even major services like crowns and root canals. Some plans also cover orthodontics.
Vision coverage for retirees and active-duty families could cover routine eye exams, low vision exams, eyeglass frames, lenses and contact lenses. Users can leverage the marketplace to choose from about five different vision insurance providers and pick the plan that is best for them.
FEDVIP's open season allows new users to purchase coverage or existing users to change their coverage. FEDVIP's open season ran from Nov. 14 to Dec. 12 in 2022.
Read More About FEDVIP
Tricare Open Enrollment
Tricare's open enrollment period allows active-duty military family members and military retirees and their families an annual chance to change plans. Outside of Tricare's open season, those groups can only change plans if they experience one of the "qualifying life events" chosen by Tricare.
During Tricare's open enrollment, retirees and active-duty family users can swap between Tricare Prime and Tricare Select for any reason. Tricare open season typically runs from mid-November through mid-December, with changes taking effect Jan. 1. For 2022, Tricare's open enrollment was from Nov. 14 to Dec. 13.
SBP Open Season
The Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) is a life insurance plan that pays the surviving spouse a monthly payment, or annuity, to help them make up for the loss of retirement pay after their service member's death. SBP is only available to military retirees. It allows a variety of beneficiaries, but has strict rules about transfers and disenrollment. SBP must be chosen during the military retirement process.
SBP typically does not have an open enrollment season or chance to disenroll after it's selected. There have been limited exceptions, including a law that opened the program for new enrollments and disenrollment over 2023.
Medicare Open Enrollment
Tricare users over age 65 use the Tricare for Life plan and are required to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B. Since Tricare for Life is a Medicare wrap-around program that covers many costs Medicare does not, including prescription drugs, most military beneficiaries don't want or need to enroll in Medicare's Advantage program or Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs.
Generally speaking, Tricare's prescription drug coverage is a better deal than using Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D. But that may not be true in every circumstance. Unlike Medicare Parts A and B, Advantage and Part D are managed by private health insurance companies. That means they also have open enrollment periods.
Medicare open enrollment for the Advantage and Part D programs happen annually each fall, typically between mid-October and mid-December. During that period, users can select a new Advantage or Part D carrier, or enroll for the first time.