Demand for Dental and Vision Benefits Increases

By Brian Muse 

In today’s tight labor market, competition for talent in California is fierce. Employers are faced with recruiting and retaining skilled workers where job opportunities far outnumber job seekers, according to CNBC. The talent shortage has inspired many employers to reconsider their employee benefits package and focus on workforce demands.

Although dental and vision plans have been popular for decades, demand for this supplemental benefit continues to grow. Market research frequently ranks dental and vision plans among the most desired employee benefits, following medical and retirement plans.Year over year, annual employee surveys from LIMRA and Employee Benefit Research Institute have reported dental and vision benefits as extremely important to an employer’s benefits package. With its increasing popularity, dental and vision benefits present an opportunity for benefit consultants and brokers to add value to their clients’ existing coverage.
To help better identify those opportunities, here is a look at some of the key factors impacting the market, and a few tips that may help optimize your clients’ dental and vision approach.

[bold subhead] Greater dental and vision health awareness

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, over the last 50 years, medical professionals have gained a greater understanding of the critical role that oral health plays in an individual’s overall health and wellbeing.

Recent medical research and studies by the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the link between dental and vision health and certain diseases. We now know that regular dental and vision exams can reveal signs of certain types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, eye conditions and other serious medical conditions—usually leading to more effective treatments.

The general public has also become more aware of how dental and vision health affects overall health, thanks to public health programs and the medical community.

In spite of these gains in public awareness, some workers take their dental and vision health for granted, ignoring signs and symptoms to their detriment.

One explanation for this could be that many medical plans do not offer dental or vision coverage, which can leave employees with high out-of-pocket expenses, or worse, avoiding essential dental and vision care altogether.

In the 2015 survey “Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States,” the ADA Health Policy Institute found that 95% of respondents believed that regular dental appointments were essential to their health, but only 37% actually visited a dentist within the last 12 months. Moreover, more than half of the respondents who reported visiting a dentist within the last year had private dental benefits. Another report by the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) found that Americans with dental benefits were more likely to receive dental care and experience greater overall health, compared to those without benefits.

[bold] Marketing Tip: Show benefit value

Benefits consultants and brokers have the opportunity to show employees the coverage gap and demonstrate the value of dental and vision plans. Communication materials should help educate employees on the importance of preventive health, while providing examples of how the plans can help make that care more affordable.

Reinforce these messages during client and enrollment meetings. Work with carriers who can provide customizable employee communications and help during enrollment meetings, allowing you to provide this level of service to all of your clients.

[bold subhead] Select the right plan for maximum impact

While employee benefits may play a small part in an overall business strategy, it’s important to note the wrong benefits mix will exacerbate business challenges. In fact, there is enough evidence to present a strong case for employers to be concerned with both the health and the financial wellbeing of their employees.

According to a 2017 Willis Towers Watson study, poor health and financial worries have a strong correlation to employee productivity. The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry reported in a computer vision study that even minor vision problems can decrease an employee’s productivity level. These studies make it easier to understand why some employees would consider changing jobs for better medical, dental and vision benefits. Yet, many employers don’t offer dental and vision benefits alongside medical plans.

Only 68% of employee respondents said their employers offered dental benefits, and only 64% said their employers offered vision benefits, according to a 2018 workplace benefits survey by Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald & Associates. There are various reasons employers decide not to offer dental or vision plans, including these common explanations:

  • Misconception that their company is too small
  • Previous plan offerings were unsuccessful
  • Employees would not be able to pay the monthly premiums or see the value of the plans

Another common rationale is that employers may find selecting dental and vision plans a bit intimidating with too many plan options, including the different types of dental plans like MAC, Passive PPO, Active PPO and DHMO. They may also be confused by how dental and vision insurance products work. In an industry full of acronyms, it sometimes takes a little time and a good tutor to become familiar with the alphabet soup of dental and vision insurance.

The truth is that employers need benefits consultants and brokers to guide them through the process. They look to you to deliver the right plans that meet their specific business goals, benefits needs and their budget—no matter how large or small the company. Benefit consultants and brokers must go beyond shopping for the lowest price by advising their clients to select dental and vision benefits that appeal to both current and future employees.

[Bold] Marketing Tip: Really know your clients

Seasoned brokers and advisors know that delivering a higher level of service means getting to know each of your clients’ needs, beyond client data, industry codes and prior enrollment history. Know what each client values most, their unique challenges and their top talent competitors. This is essential to helping your clients develop a solid benefits strategy with streamlined solutions that align with their priorities.

Client relationships mean everything in this industry, but it’s easy to have a strong client relationship and still lose sight of your client’s changing business priorities and goals. And for the employer, it’s easy to slip into a routine of offering the same benefits plan year after year, and miss the signals that it’s time to update the dental or vision plans.

As benefits professionals, you are in a perfect position to assist your clients in identifying these signals and providing guidance on whether it’s time to update their dental and vision plans—or maybe even add another dental plan option to their benefit package. Monitoring employee demographics and annual plan utilization reports are great ways to spot some early signs that your clients may need adjustments to their dental and vision benefits. Through this consulting process, your clients will be better equipped to help employees maintain their health and productivity levels. And happy, healthy employees also help your clients win in today’s competitive labor market.

Brian Muse is the vice president of Dental and Vision Market Development at Unum, primarily focused on supporting business development and client satisfaction of Unum’s dental and vision products. He has 29 years of comprehensive sales, account management and business development experience, including more than 14 years of experience in the employee benefits industry.