The recession may be costing some Americans their dental coverage–and reminding them how important having dental benefits can be.
A few years ago, “dental was a tag-along product,” says Dr. Alan Vogel, national dental director at MetLife Inc., New York. “Everyone’s focus was on medical.”
Now, researchers are publishing more studies on the connections between oral health and general physical health, benefits budgets are shrinking, and dental insurance premiums are rising.
Due in part to the increase in the cost of dental insurance, “people are paying attention to it,” Vogel reports.
When the National Association of Dental Plans, Dallas, commissioned a survey of 1900 U.S. employers in July 2008, it found that 62% now regard dental coverage as an essential benefit, up from 53% in 2005.
LIMRA International, Windsor, Conn., polled 1000 U.S. employers of all sizes in December 2008 and January 2009. Most of the employers in the survey said they intend to continue to offer all the benefits they now offer, including dental. Some employers still hope to add dental benefits this year.
Few workers are experts on dental care.
Vogel said dentists and public health educators have their hands full with simply trying to teach patients the basics, such as the concept that gums should not bleed when they are brushed.
But consumers who need dental care are keenly aware of the effects of the economy on their ability to afford that care: Many are asking dentists for thorough diagnoses, then saving out-of-pocket payments by postponing whatever procedures can be postponed, Vogel says.
American Dental Partners Inc., Wakefield, Mass., a publicly traded company that sells services to dental practices, is seeing a similar trend.
“Our affiliated practices have observed patients either delaying care or, for those patients with dental insurance, opting for dental procedures that are largely covered by insurance,” American Dental says in a report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in March. “As a result, revenue growth rates of the affiliated practices have decreased and revenue mix has shifted towards lower-cost and lower-profitability dental procedures.”