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Brushing Up on Preventive Dental Benefits

Patient receiving preventive dental services

Quick look: Studies show that many employees think that dental benefits are very important, yet 25% of those with dental insurance haven’t seen a dentist in the past year. Here’s how brokers can help clients refresh their dental benefit strategy this upcoming open enrollment season to increase the utilization of preventive dental services, reduce overall medical spending, and boost employee health.

The right preventive dental offering can help cut overall costs and improve their employees’ health and wellness. And with open enrollment season upon us, and 82% of workers believing that these benefits are very important, the time is now for brokers to chat with clients about ways to freshen up their dental benefit strategy. Let’s discuss the effect that preventive dental services have on overall medical spending, as well as how to encourage clients to update their plan and communications strategy.

The importance of preventive dental services

Preventive dental services can make a big impact on both individual health and the finances of workers and their employers. The downstream costs caused by neglected dental issues can add up, and it’s important for clients to offer (and properly communicate) the right dental benefits to their employees. For example, dental care is associated with $136 billion in annual costs, and the United States experiences over $45 billion in lost productivity each year due to untreated oral disease.

Preventive dental services can also reduce the spend on other health issues. Regularly visiting the dentist can help detect other potentially serious medical conditions like gum disease, which is associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and pre-term, low-birth-weight babies.

Proactive care is important for children, too. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has found that when school-age children experience delayed dental care, they are more likely to later need expensive, major dental services.

The dental knowledge gap

Even if your clients already offer a well-rounded dental plan, are their employees aware of the benefits available to them? Chances are some of them may not be.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 25% of adults with dental insurance have not seen a dentist in the last 12 months. This may be due to employees being unaware about their insurance plans and the preventive services available to them at little or no cost, like annual or biannual visits and cleanings.

Just because some employees aren’t in the know about these benefits doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear about or don’t value them. For example, 68% of eligible employees enroll in dental benefits when offered by an employer (the highest participation rate compared to other non-medical benefits), and 79% of the U.S. population has dental benefits (many of which are sponsored by employers, according to the National Association of Dental Plans’ 2019 Dental Benefits Report: Enrollment.

How clients can refresh their dental benefit strategy

Unfortunately, most dental problems don’t go away on their own and often lead to even bigger health problems. Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can help their employees avoid this situation by revamping their dental benefit offering and accompanying communication plan. The following four tips can serve as food for thought and guide the conversations with your clients.

1. Fully cover preventive dental services

Almost 40% of people say they have put off dental services over the past year due to cost, making it the most common type of medical care to be skipped or delayed. These patients may have a dental insurance plan that involves deductibles or cost-sharing for routine checkups.

Ideally clients could cover, on a first-dollar basis without out-of-pocket payments, a minimum of two cleanings per year and consider covering a third for those who need it, like older or higher-risk employees. Those who are high-risk may also benefit the most from the additional opportunity to potentially identify related health issues.

2. Consider additional coverage options

Many clients fully cover two preventive dental visits a year, but as discussed above, the right number of dental checkups and cleanings varies from person to person. Those who require additional visits beyond the standard two likely receive no financial support for those subsequent appointments and are more likely to skip treatments, something that can result in more serious situations like abscesses, the need for root canals, and more.

To soften the financial blow for this population, clients can consider offering a dental plan that covers four visits at 80%, instead of two visits at 100%, which can make regular appointments much more affordable for those who need them. Another potential solution is to offer a health savings account (HSA) or flexible savings account (FSA) to workers, which can allow them to use pre-tax dollars to pay for needed treatments. Today’s workforce is multigenerational, and it’s important for clients to offer multiple plan options so that employees can select which coverage best suits their needs.

3. Redefine “preventive”

For dental patients, what’s reasonably priced and what’s not often comes down to how their insurance plan defines “preventive.” Clients can make all dentist visits, cleanings, and exams more affordable for their workers by waiving the deductible for preventive services and ensuring that these services aren’t counted toward the plan’s annual maximum, which leaves more coverage available for future dental needs during the plan year.

4. Strengthen communication

In addition to offering multiple plan options, clients should also hone their benefit communication strategy to encourage employees to enroll in and use their preventive dental benefits.

Clients should send regular communications to employees discussing the dental plans available to them and which preventive care services are covered. They should also provide a list of local in-network dentists with their respective ratings, and information about the correlation between oral health and overall health and wellbeing. This information can be shared via email, on the company intranet, in your client’s HRIS or mobile app, or on the client’s collaboration tool of choice (i.e. Microsoft Teams). Regardless of the topic and where it’s shared, it’s critical that these communications are short and concise – no one wants their dental plan details to be a mouthful.

Smile: providing dental benefit expertise just got easier

It’s a challenging time for brokers. Between navigating the turbulent economy, the tight labor market, and ever-evolving client needs, you’ve got your hands full. Luckily, a professional employer organization (PEO) can help.

A PEO, like ExtensisHR, features a broker-centric business model and can provide a Fortune 500-level benefit offering that your clients wouldn’t typically be able to affordably access on their own. PEOs also have in-house benefits administration and management experts who can guide you and your clients every step of the way.

In addition to several dental plan options, ExtensisHR also provides access to the following benefits:

With open enrollment season approaching, now is the time for brokers to chat with clients about how to update their dental benefit strategy – something that can boost enrollment rates, reduce costs, and improve overall employee health.

Your clients’ employees may be unaware of their dental benefits, or even have the wrong plan. Contact the benefit experts at ExtensisHR today to solve these pain points and strengthen your book of business.

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