As part of a robust benefits package, the importance of dental insurance should not be underestimated — by boards or by members. Providing your members with access to quality dental care not only shows your investment in their well-being but also keeps them healthy and productive on the job.
Simply providing such benefits may not be enough, though. Members must be thoroughly informed of the coverage available, encouraged to enroll and continually reminded of the necessity of keeping up oral hygiene routines.
The Importance of Dental Insurance
Out-of-pocket costs mean that members without dental coverage are more likely to push off preventive care or ignore oral issues. The longer they wait to seek treatment, the more likely it is that a more serious problem will arise, potentially resulting in time away from work and even more expensive treatments.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2018 study found that "an average of 320.8 million work or school hours were lost annually for dental care in the United States, of which 92.4 million hours were for emergency (unplanned) care." Those with poor oral care were more likely to experience work absences as well as a loss of productivity when on the job.
And while it's easy to believe that forgoing dental insurance and care primarily impacts your teeth and gums, according to the National Association of Dental Plans, those without dental insurance have a higher rate of health conditions like heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. When members enroll in dental insurance plans, they're able to access regular checkups that result not only in healthier teeth and gums but overall better health.
Encouraging Members to Enroll
It's important to promote enrollment in dental insurance not as an added-on health benefit but rather as part of a holistic health-management plan. During open enrollment, provide members information (via emails, newsletters or in-person meetings) about the importance of dental insurance. Explain that while they may have good dental hygiene habits or think their teeth are healthy, their dentists can identify the above-mentioned critical conditions seemingly unrelated to oral health.
In addition to discussing the benefits of dental insurance, it's also smart to address the anxiety that might prevent members from enrolling in or using dental coverage. This may be a fear of the dentist or a worry about out-of-pocket costs related to the expensive treatments that a routine visit might reveal, especially if members have been putting off a checkup for years. Relay exactly what the dental plan covers and what services members have access to, along with the fact that avoiding the dentist today can result in more trouble tomorrow.
Promoting the Use of Dental Coverage
Once you've encouraged your members to enroll, conduct regular outreach to remind them of the importance of routine dental care and the benefits available. After all, dental insurance is one of the most underused and underrated of all health insurance benefits. According to a 2016 report by the American Dental Association's Health Policy Institute, 36.5 percent of all adults with dental insurance did not file a single claim in the 2013 plan year. Similarly, a study by Lincoln Financial Group found that many aren't relying on their coverage because they misunderstand their benefits and fear they'll pay high costs for treatment. "Consumers may not be taking full advantage of their dental benefits due to a simple lack of knowledge about their insurance plans," said Christopher Stevens, head of dental product management at Lincoln Financial Group.
This same study found that only half of those surveyed believe they are offered adequate information about dental coverage. Primarily, those surveyed desired general information about their dental plan, a list of in-network dentists and rankings of those providers.
Biannual reminders to schedule routine checkups, regular promotion of your insurance provider's online tools and brown bag lunch discussions with dental plan administrators are all helpful methods to encourage plan use.
The importance of offering and encouraging the use of dental insurance cannot be overstated. Access to high-quality, affordable care helps identify concerns before they become more serious. It not only keeps your members healthy — it ensures they stay productive and on the job without having to worry about health issues or expenses.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.