Helping Employees Get the Most Value out of Their Dental Benefits

by Heather Mollon

In today’s employment scene, it is not uncommon for employers to provide access to medical and dental benefits to their employees. This is particularly meaningful, as insured employees are more likely to receive preventive care by virtue of this mutually beneficial arrangement. However, it is up to employers to help them get the most value out of their benefits. 

The problem: Data shows that 80% of employees do not read the information, and, for those who do, nearly 40% say they don’t understand it.

By taking some simple steps, employers can make sure their employees fully understand this important health benefit — and understand that taking full advantage of the dental benefits offered is not only good for the employee, but good for the company as well. 

To realize the most savings, employees should consider visiting the dentists in their plan’s network. When employees choose a network dentist, they typically have lower out-of-pocket costs, meaning they pay less for their dental procedures. In addition, visiting a network dentist results in lower claims costs for the employer. This can lead to more stable premiums in the long run for the employer, especially if they’re self-funded. 

It is important to note that if an employee uses a dentist outside the plan’s network, the employee may be responsible for paying the difference for the cost of the service. Network dentists agree to accept lower fees for the services they provide. When a patient goes outside the plan network, that cost difference is typically his or her individual responsibility. 

When educating employees about their benefits, it is also crucial to help them understand the importance of oral health and disease prevention. Because most dental disease is preventable, many dental plans cover the cost of preventive care at 100%. Regular exams and cleanings are key to keeping mouths healthy and catching dental diseases early before they become costly problems. 

Preventing dental disease also helps boost employees’ overall health, as signs and symptoms of more than 120 diseases can be found in the mouth. During routine dental appointments, dentists will do a thorough exam to look for these conditions and will screen for such things as oral cancer or other irregularities with the goal of early detection. This can help lower medical costs by increasing treatment options and improving outcomes.

While educating employees about their dental plan coverage, clear and frequent communication will help avoid confusion. It’s important to use a variety of approaches when providing the information. This might include videos, pamphlets, emails or lunch-and-learn presentations. Team culture plays a part here: Is it possible they’re intimidated to ask questions? Or are some too confused to know what questions to ask in the first place? Understanding plan benefits can be overwhelming, and providing opportunities for employees to ask questions will go a long way toward alleviating any future frustrations.

Employers should continue to remind employees of the benefits of good oral health and encourage them to utilize preventive care. During open enrollment season, employees’ attention will be focused on their insurance benefits. But it’s important to create regular benefits touch points as well. In order for employees to fully understand their dental benefits, they need to be engaged in their company’s benefits program throughout the year. 

The final step to help employees maximize their dental coverage is to make sure they have all the available materials and resources. It’s important to send a cost-savings worksheet to show the financial differences between using an in-network dentist and an out-of-network dentist. Employers should also speak with their dental benefits carrier about any communication tools the carrier may offer to make it easier for employees to understand and use their benefits. It is likely the dental benefits carrier will be a great resource! 

It is also helpful to meet people where they are by having mobile options available. Whether it is looking for a dentist or grabbing the insurance card on an iPhone, taking small key steps to move to mobile will help empower a company’s employees.   

Heather Mollon is senior director of client relationships at Delta Dental of Arizona.

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