Tactical

Open season ending soon for Tricare, dental, new child care accounts

With just a few days left before open season ends, those in the military community have some decisions to make, including those who will have child care expenses in 2024.

Changes made during open season will take effect Jan. 1.

For those eligible for Tricare: Tricare is the health care program for service members, retirees and their families worldwide. If you want to make changes in your plan, such as moving from Tricare Prime to Tricare Select, or vice versa, the deadline for doing so is Dec. 12. For information about enrolling in or changing plans, visit the Tricare Open Season page. If you’re already enrolled in a Tricare plan and don’t want to make changes, you don’t have to take any action. But you should still check to see if there are changes in Tricare costs that could affect you.

For military members with expenses for child or adult day care: A new benefit, the Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account, is available to active duty members, as well as members of the Active Guard Reserve on Title 10 orders. The last day to enroll is Dec. 11, one day shorter than Tricare open season. The flexible spending account, announced by Department of Defense officials earlier this year, helps defray the cost of child care and other dependent care by providing tax savings. The Federal Flexible Spending Account Program, known as FSAFEDS, is sponsored by the Office of Personnel Management.

Families can contribute as little as $100, and as much as $5,000 over the year to this account. Eligible expenses include child or adult day care, preschool, summer day camps, and before- or after-school programs. A $5,000 yearly contribution works out to about $417 a month from military pay. That amount is deducted from pay before taxes, so this reduces the amount of total income subject to taxes. Thus, a family with $60,000 in income who contributes $5,000 to their account would only be taxed on $55,000. You’ll submit eligible expenses for reimbursement. Information about the process for doing that, including an app, is available on the FSAFEDS website.

Military families should review their expected child care costs carefully to determine how much to set aside in an account if they enroll in the program. Any amount left over in their account by the end of the grace period in 2025 will be forfeited. Troops and spouses are encouraged to take advantage of the Defense Department’s free counseling and advice from personal financial management counselors at many military installations, and tax counselors available all year through Military One Source. FSAFEDS also offers free benefits counseling.

For those eligible for FEDVIP dental and vision plans: Most retirees and their family members are eligible for dental and vision coverage under the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program, or FEDVIP. The deadline for enrolling in or changing FEDVIP coverage is Dec. 11, also one day shorter than the Tricare open season.

Families of active duty, National Guard and reserve service members — as well as Guardsmen and reservists who aren’t on active duty — are eligible for the Tricare Dental Program, which requires separate enrollment.

Those in the military community must be enrolled in a Tricare health plan to be eligible for FEDVIP vision coverage. Those eligible include active duty family members, retirees and their eligible family members, and Selected Reserve members and their families.

Visit BENEFDS for more information about dental and vision coverage, and to enroll in or change plans.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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