Dental insurers are hoping advisors will help them keep the recession from knocking the teeth out of boomer clients’ mouths.
Typical boomer financial services clients get dental coverage from their employers, reputable discount plans cost less than $200 per year, and insured individual preferred provider organization plans can cost less than $400 per year. But the slumping economy could tempt some cash-strapped boomers to nickel and dime their teeth.
“People definitely go without in hard times,” says Dr. Gene Sherman, a senior vice president at AlwaysCare Benefits Inc., an ancillary benefits unit of Starmount Life Insurance Company, Baton Rouge, La.
Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, when Sherman was working as a practicing dentist and a severe recession hit, “we had trouble filling our chairs,” Sherman says.
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Boomers are in the stage of life when tender gums can turn into destructive periodontal disease.
In 1994, the last time the federal government conducted a detailed, national oral health survey, researchers found that the percentage of U.S. residents with serious, destructive gum disease jumped from 18% for people in their 30s, to 28% for people in their 40s, to 46% for people in their 50s.
For a 40-something or 50-something boomer with bad gums, replacing just one tooth lost to gum disease with a modern implant could cost thousands of dollars, and repairing major damage to many teeth could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Severe gum disease also can cause or aggravate other boomer health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, scientists report. Boomers are at an age when detection of oral cancer starts to rise, and they face risks related to the era in which they were born, Sherman says.
Group dental plans have responded to concerns about oral cancer and periodontal disease by expanding benefits.
Units of UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn., and Humana Inc., Louisville, Ky., have announced in the past year that they will cover the VizLite Plus oral cancer screening test.
At AlwaysCare, “we started providing cancer screening for people over age 40 for people who have risk factors,” Sherman says.
Carriers that have expanded periodontal care benefits in the past few years include companies such as Aetna Inc., Hartford; Assurant Employee Benefits, Kansas City, Mo.; CIGNA Corp., Philadelphia; Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York; Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa; Renaissance Health Service Corp., Okemos, Mich.; Shenandoah Life Insurance Company, Roanoke, Va.; United Concordia, Harrisburg, Pa., and the members of the Delta Dental system
Boomers also face special generation-related risks, Sherman says.