Dental insurance is broken – and that’s just the start

By Alex Frommeyer

Dental insurance is broken. At least, this was my fundamental take away back in 2012 when I first ‘discovered’ the dental industry. I was sitting in a metal folding chair (the type you might have sat in your elementary school cafeteria as a child) in a cramped living room in Louisville, Kentucky. I was with my two best friends, and now co-founders, working on a fluid mix of engineering homework and client work for a small R&D consultancy that the three of us had started a couple of years prior out of that same living room. At the time, I was listening to a ton of early 2000s hip hop and EDM, so it was blasting in the background when I circled the guys up and showed them something new I had just learned: more than 100 million Americans didn’t have dental insurance – a fact that I found startling. Everyone has teeth, so why wasn’t there virtually automatic coverage for all people?

Over time, we of course learned about why affordable coverage for dental services had left so many potential customers behind. Like many topics in healthcare, it’s nuanced and complicated. But one thing that came up repeatedly was the lack of innovation in the product. Everyone sells the same thing for about the same price. To us, it was the spark of the idea that led us to build Beam Dental, a next generation provider of dental insurance (and vision too!). Beam provides traditional PPO dental insurance policies in California and 24 other states around the country, but with a twist: we are a technology company first, so we have refreshed the entire product experience…and built it all from the ground up.

So what makes us different from other providers of dental insurance?

First, the Perks! All Beam Dental members have the option to receive Beam Perks when their policy goes live, which ships an electric toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and refill heads directly to the door of the member. A dental goods subscription service, but no administrative burden for the broker or business; Beam coordinates the entire program on your behalf. On the effective month, each member gets their intro pack with an electric, Bluetooth-connected Beam Brush (in one of three colors), and every six months Beam sends a refill pack with additional paste, refill heads, and floss so the member has everything they need for great preventive dental care.

Beam’s core philosophy is that with better preventive engagement there will be fewer costly dental interventions needed over time. And let’s face it – this is what drives up premium costs for the member and/or employer over time. The connected nature of the Beam Brush also aggregates brushing engagement data at the group level that we use as part of your renewal pricing. If your group brushes their teeth with strong frequency, they can earn premium discounts as they renew to offset increases. In fact, many groups actually see a net decrease in their renewal price.

Next is support and service. While many of our groups and members are initially attracted to Beam because of our perks program, the reason they never want to leave is our strong commitment to phenomenal member success and best-in-class digital tools for self-service. Digital insurance cards, a member portal for seeing claims and making adjustments to account information, and clean, easy to understand Explanation of Benefits documents are just a few of the upgrades you can expect as a Beam member. Our efforts here are in line with a larger trend in healthcare and insurance, as more technology businesses like Oscar Health, Bright Health, and Gusto work to make the product experience more streamlined and delightful. Not a word many consumers would expect today from a benefits company.

Finally, our tech-enabled broker tools. We turn around RFPs in no more than two business days, most often same day. Our claims processing is highly automated, accurate, and transparent. We offer seven different digitally native ways to enroll your group and their members in a Beam plan, negating the ‘switching costs’ typically painfully associated with moving a case. Our Lighthouse portal is for brokers and plan administrators; whether you are adding or removing a member, coordinating COBRA coverage, or checking on status of a claim, no interactions take more than a couple quick clicks.

While we are internally investing deeply in tools to help the entirety of the product experience, we are not alone. In fact, there are a multitude of companies, large and small, that are dedicated to making employee benefits work better and using technology to do it. For example, Beam has partnered with Liazon, a leading private exchange, to provide a menu of compelling plans to California small businesses. In addition, Beam is working with Word & Brown, a prominent California-based general agency, and Wellthie, a quoting and benefit administration tool, all of whom represent both unique plans and digital tools to aid top brokers in being able to offer a better value and service level to clients regardless of size and sophistication.

And we can’t forget about vision coverage! Another valuable partner to Beam is VSP. In 2017, Beam launched a series of Beam Vision plans that are bundled with our innovative dental insurance offering, but leverage VSP’s industry leading network of providers and claims processing capabilities. As it becomes increasingly efficient and effective for brokers to structure their ancillary programs to align with a limited number of partners, VSP provides both credibility and quality to our total offering.

The technology finance world is also taking notice of what we’re doing in the sleepy dental industry. Earlier this year, Beam Dental announced a $22 million investment from legendary venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, formerly Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), adding further fuel to the growth story for the company. This brings Beam’s fund raising to $35 million, allowing the company to concentrate on maintaining the best client and customer support in the business.

The workforce is changing rapidly, and as a result, benefit programs are as well. The way the companies of the future want to shop for, select and work with their vendors (of all types) is grounded firmly in digital, convenient interfaces and friendly voices when needed. Beam’s approach is modern, but human, as this is a business that demands both. Even though we started in a living room those years ago, our ambition was big…and now we are rolling out nationwide. Look for us in more and more living rooms (and bathrooms!) around the country over the next year.

Alex Frommeyer is the Co-founder and CEO of Beam Dental, a dental benefits company that offers employers a fundamentally unique approach to dental coverage by incorporating hygiene behavior into policy pricing. He has two engineering degrees from the University of Louisville Speed School of Engineering, where he graduated magna cum laude and founded his first company in 2010.