While medical health plans have long been the mainstay of most benefits programs, dental coverage has typically fallen somewhere between low-priority and non-existent. Now however, as employers search for benefits their people really want – and that the company can afford – dental insurance is rising to the top of the list. Especially among younger workers.
Expenses associated with obtaining and administering employee benefits are an ongoing challenge for employers of all sizes. But cost concerns are tempered by the knowledge that, without the right benefits package, the company’s recruiting and retention efforts may be severely hampered. Dental insurance options are taking a bite out of costs, and they’re making employees smile.
In fact, 70% of employees – across all generations – now say lack of dental coverage is a deal-killer when they’re considering a new job. That’s according to the MetLife 2017 Employee Benefit Trends Study.
Offering dental insurance makes sense because people need it
The National Association of Dental Plans says people without dental insurance are more likely to suffer from gum disease, as well as other oral problems and a host of serious health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
On the flip side, they say, “Americans with dental benefits are more likely to go to the dentist, take their children to the dentist, receive restorative care and experience greater overall health.” Regular visits to the dentist can help uncover a variety of non-oral health issues.
Because there is now conclusive scientific evidence that oral health reflects a person’s overall health, employers are making dental health a major component of their corporate wellness strategy. They believe that promoting oral care is strong preventive medicine for their employees. With workers able to access medical insurance on their own via the Affordable Care Act, even smaller businesses have been able to refocus benefits menus on other products and services their employees cannot easily access by themselves.
And it’s not just take-it-or-leave-it dental coverage. Insurance companies and plan administrators are offering multiple options employees can choose among, picking the plan that works best for their family and personal circumstances.
Offering dental insurance makes sense financially, too
Healthy employees are more productive employees, because they are off work less. Healthy employees use their benefits less, and that saves employers money out-of-pocket as well as in administrative costs. So everybody benefits.
There are direct business benefits, too. Healthy employees are more productive, and they realize that. According to the MetLife study, a third of workers admitted their work suffered when they had to delay needed dental care.
Employees judge a company’s benefits program by its usability as well as specific coverage details. Ease of usage matters in terms of improving and maintaining personal and family health. But perceived value of overall benefits heavily influence employee job satisfaction and the company’s brand as a desirable employer.
Insurers themselves are also developing dental plans that focus more on wellness. For example, Humana has a plan that allows members to get their teeth cleaned four times a year rather than the usual two.
What employers are doing
Employees are consumers when it comes to choosing among health insurance options. They need information. Unfortunately, while education is crucial, but it seems to be noticeably lacking.
There’s no doubt employees want dental insurance. According to Lincoln Financial Group, more than half say it is a “must-have,” and a total of 82% describe it as “very important. Shockingly, though, a lot of people who have dental coverage do not take advantage of it. Lincoln Financial says a full quarter of folks are afraid the cost of preventive care will be too high. This, “despite the fact that preventive care is usually fully covered.”
Clearly employees need to be better educated about the details of their coverage. But Lincoln Financial warns companies that people expect more – from their prospective dentist as well as their employee benefits program:
- 96% say they want help from their dental office when it comes to understanding their insurance coverage.
- 40% of millennials want a dentist who has a useful, informative website – one where they can easily see if their insurance is accepted, check costs of services, and schedule appointments. And that website had better be mobile-friendly.
- Around a third want the option of weekend and/or evening appointments.
All that makes the network – which dentists are actually available under the benefits plan – as important as which services are covered and to what extent. In fact, more than half of employees hope to receive a list of eligible local dentists from their employer, and a third want not only a list but ratings and rankings information as well.
Industry watchers suggest that, to be most effective, education efforts will have to combine communications from employers, dentists and insurance companies. In fact, they say, insurers will have to work more closely with employers to create flexible dental plans tailored to fit the demographics and desires of specific groups of employees.
At this point, the future of the Affordable Care Act is unclear. However, one provision that is set to go into effect in 2020 is the so-called “Cadillac tax” – a 40% excise tax on premium employer health plans. The good news for employees and employers alike is that dental coverage is excepted from this provision. So employers can add dental insurance to boost the quality and range of their overall benefits package without triggering a potentially negative side-effective for workers.
Everywhere we turn today, we hear about Big Data. Companies are looking to data to help them create benefits programs that are more desirable, more effective, and more cost-effective. The ability to spot trends in dental insurance usage among employees, for instance, can help an employer refine their plan. They can choose to eliminate unused “benefits” to reduce overall costs, or they can replace those options with others their people do want.
As an example, in a workforce that includes a significant number of children and/or women of child-bearing age, fully covered quarterly dental cleanings might be especially appreciated. Humana now offers this, as noted earlier, in part because more frequent dental visits can help detect both gestational and early childhood diabetes.
Employee benefits managers are also using technology to provide a greater range of plan related information and simplify access to it – not only for dental insurance but all aspects of their benefits program. Many have created secure web portals that offer instant, anytime access to information. Some have even developed customized apps employees can use to follow and manage their own accounts.
The net effect is helping employees make the best choices for themselves and their families, while helping control their out-of-pocket costs. In the process, employers are finding that offering dental insurance and making it easily accessible is a decision that is making everyone smile.