Although long-insulated from employers’ cost-cutting efforts because of their low price, the rising cost of health coverage is now affecting dental benefits, according to industry experts. Troubled by high rates of inflation in their medical plans, some employers are scaling back on dental benefits. This is not necessarily the best move for employers, as workers tend to see the value in solid dental care. Many people make a positive connection between overall good health and maintaining their oral health. In addition, those with dental benefits may have a brighter view of their health and well-being in general.
The Relationship between Oral and Medical Health
The strong link between oral health and overall medical health is leading to more and more integration between the fields of medicine and dentistry. As a result, dental benefits are becoming a more significant component of total benefit plans and wellness programs.
Millions of work hours and even days are lost each year to workers with dental problems. Lack of coverage is the main reason individuals don’t go to the dentist or limit their visits. Unfortunately, this can lead to more costly medical and dental expenditures down the line for patients and employers. For example, studies show:
- The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cervical, testicular, thyroid and laryngeal cancers.
- Diabetes is associated with an increased occurrence and progression of periodontitis.
- Periodontal disease is linked to coronary heart disease and stroke.
- Periodontal disease during pregnancy can lead to delivering pre-term and low-birth weight babies, increasing a child’s risk of illness and death in the first year of life.
- Periodontal disease is linked to the development and worsening of diabetes.
- Periodontal disease may recur in individuals who have had it already if they do not receive proper dental care. Regular dental care will reduce the risk of tooth loss and assist in overall health preservation.
Employees Want Flexibility
Dental coverage is an essential employee benefit that can make an employer stand out. But simply providing dental coverage is not enough—employees are demanding more. Offering a flexible, comprehensive dental benefits package is becoming a competitive advantage. Most of all, employees are asking for choice in selecting the best plan for them. This could include having the option to choose an inexpensive base coverage level or pay more for more substantial coverage.
Most dental plans can be customized, just like medical plans. Traditionally, dental plans aim to emphasize access and prevention. Some basic guidelines to selecting an effective dental plan include:
- Avoiding road blocks that cause patients to delay care
- Keeping medical treatment separate from dental treatment
- Structuring plans so copayments are required for all care other than diagnostic and preventive
- Limiting exclusions
Plan sponsors should determine whether or not their current dental plan is exempt from the Affordable Care Act. It may make sense to adopt a different dental plan in order to avoid having to change the current plan design. For any changes made related to health care reform requirements, be sure to update plan documents and communicate changes clearly to plan participants.
Though rising benefit costs may be squeezing your dollars, your employees (and potential future hires) likely see the benefit in dental coverage. Moreover, a quality dental care package can actually help reduce medical coverage costs by preventing illness and disease.