Broker blog from Delta Dental

Tag: covid-19

5 ways Delta Dental is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Delta Dental is working to support our customers, dentists and local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the ways we’re responding to this health and financial crisis.

1. Charitable giving to vital services

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has provided nearly $15 million this year to help nonprofits respond to the pandemic. These unrestricted grant funds have supported essential services, including dozens of dental and medical clinics serving low-income communities across our 15-state service area and the District of Columbia.

To help feed vulnerable communities during skyrocketing food insecurity, we’ve also contributed $2.5 million to food banks in Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New York, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

2. Dentist loan program

Partnering with Provide (formerly known as Lendeavor), Delta Dental has offered over $300 million in loan programs to provide economic relief for qualifying independent network dentists.

The loan program, which extends through the end of the year, covers cash flow relief as well as interest savings. It also includes loans that dentists can use to acquire, refinance, expand or equip a practice, as well as to acquire or refinance commercial real estate for a practice.

3. Relief for groups, individuals and brokers

We’ve offered various forms of premium relief to all lines of our business to help alleviate the financial strain of the pandemic on our individual customers and group clients. To provide further support, we’ve made adjustments to many of our contract policies to help clients and brokers weather the financial impact of the pandemic.

At the same time, we’ve also prioritized our brokers’ financial stability. Commissions have remained intact, with no reductions to offset premium relief.

4. PPE and infection control reimbursement for dentists

The new costs of practicing during a pandemic have added to the financial strain on our network dentists. To help, Delta Dental launched a supplemental reimbursement program for network dentists.

The temporary program, which runs through the end of the year, is meant to help dentists adjust to the new conditions under COVID-19 as they plan for 2021. Under the program, network dentists receive an additional $10 per patient per qualifying service to help cover the costs of additional personal protective equipment and other infection control practices.

5. Teledentistry resources

Delta Dental has encouraged dentists and patients to consider teledentistry options for diagnostic and emergency dental services. Teledentistry, or virtual consultation via phone, text or video, offers a safe, convenient choice and can expand access to care for patients who might otherwise not see a dentist.

We’re offering discounts and free trials on HIPAA-compliant teledentistry services to Delta Dental dentists and are building partnerships with teledentistry companies to improve the experience for our customers and network dentists.

How has COVID-19 affected the dental industry?

The new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has significantly altered how the dental industry operates. Here are three ways the pandemic has changed the dental insurance landscape.

Timid patients

There’s an almost daily debate of what constitutes a good reason for leaving your house right now. Individual states are at different stages of re-opening or shutting back down. With so much uncertainty, it makes sense that 42% of patients respondents may skip or postpone care out of fear or discomfort, particularly for non-emergency procedures.

This on top of the 61% of people who already suffer dental fears means that showing patients the extensive infection control measures in place may be an important aspect of getting them back in the chair.

A boom in teledentistry

Teledentistry is a way for dentists to provide a virtual consultation through a phone call, text, or video chat. Dentists can use teledentistry to address problems that don’t need an office visit, which allows them to save time and money on infection control measures like personal protective equipment and sanitizing office spaces. This gives practices an ideal way to assess and triage patients without a risk of exposure, while also potentially allowing a dentist to see more patients in a day.

Even before the pandemic, teledentistry was showing itself as an interesting and promising addition to traditional dental care. It allows dentists to see patients who are at-risk, live in rural areas, or those who just desire the convenience as well as potentially decreasing costs of dental care overall.

The key ingredient to the success of teledentistry is widespread patient acceptance. One possible issue, according to a review of survey’s about teledentistry, is that patients may feel like the quality of care received remotely is not as high as care received in person. However, users in one study were generally satisfied with the experience and respondents in another survey indicated that they would use teledentistry if it was available.

Americans losing health insurance

The biggest shift has been in the number of people with access to health insurance. With millions of jobs lost, many individuals and their families have lost both their coverage from their employers as well as a steady income. According to researchers from the Urban Institute, some individuals will be able to become insured under a family member’s policy, through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, Medicaid or by choosing individual coverage through a broker. Still, that leaves almost 3.5 million people who may become uninsured. With the end of federal programs to support those who have lost their jobs, one big question for the dental industry is whether or not people will make the choice to go to the dentist.

Dentists seen as an economic indicator

The dental industry may be a good indicator of whether Americans have fully recovered from the pandemic, according to a June New York Times article. This is because dentists offer a unique service that has no clear alternative.

Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit the U.S. in early March, the national economy has seen a downturn and a subsequent uptick. The dental industry experienced an amplified version of these national employment trends, with half of all dental workers losing their jobs in March and April, and 94% of dentist offices rehiring their full staff by mid-August.

Getting dentists back into the office

Stimulus programs may be a key factor in helping dentists to weather this storm. Practices that took part in the federal Paycheck Protection Program were more likely to remain open than those that didn’t.

Even after job gains since June, the dental industry still has 289,000 fewer workers than it did before the pandemic. That suggests to Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economics professor quoted in the Times article, that the industry — and the rest of the American economy — is far from recovered.

What does the future look like?

Though dentist offices have been open for several months, it’s unclear whether their patient bases will return. In mid-June, most states gave dentist offices the go-ahead to reopen fully, but in August patient volumes were still lower than what they were before the pandemic. The rate at which patients were returning has even tapered off as of mid-August and some economists don’t predict patient volumes to return fully before the end of 2020.

This hesitation is a sign of multiple problems facing patients during the pandemic. Some patients may feel cautious about removing their masks for a close-up procedure. Others may think that since they haven’t noticed any dental issues since the pandemic started, they can go a little longer without getting a dental cleaning. Some people can simply no longer afford dental procedures after losing their jobs and their insurance benefits through their employers. Economists who spoke to the Times predict that employment rates for dentists will eventually return to where they were before the virus hit, even though it may be slow going.

Teledentistry: what it is, and what it means for your clients

Businesses, schools and public space have been reopening for months now, and that includes dental offices. As part of the reopening efforts, more dentists and their patients have turned to teledentistry, an emerging trend that has the power to reshape the industry as we know it. Here are some common questions about teledentistry, as well as our thoughts about the impact teledentistry will have on the industry and how Delta Dental is addressing it.

What is teledentistry?

Teledentistry is when a dentist conducts a virtual consultation via phone, text or video to diagnose issues, offer care advice and determine if an in-person visit is necessary.

Teledentistry appointments can be synchronous, such as a video call where the dentist and patient are interacting with each other, or asynchronous, such as when the patient sends a description of his or her situation and a photo and waits for a reply.

Are teledentistry appointments covered by insurance?

Yes. Delta Dental covers teledentistry services as problem-focused exams. That means they fall into the category of diagnostic care, and are subject to the same rules and limitations (for example, D&P is usually covered at no cost to the patient, but only a certain number of such appointments are covered each year).

What kind of equipment is needed for teledentistry appointments?

The equipment and software needed may vary based on dentists’ preferences and capabilities. Teledentistry may require nothing more than a phone or may require a smart device, computer or specialized app.

If dental offices are reopening, why is teledentistry relevant?

Dentist offices may open, but that doesn’t mean that patients won’t benefit from teledentistry solutions. Just as working from home has shown the value of video meetings and connecting with coworkers without being in person, patients may find teledentistry a useful option when seeking dental care.

Additionally, not all patients are willing to return to the dentists. Surveys this past August by the American Dental Association (ADA) have found that 15% of people are waiting for a medical breakthrough such as a vaccine before they’ll go back to the dentist. Whether your clients are eager or hesitant to return the dentist, teledentistry is the perfect tool for staying in touch, getting care and getting advice without going into the dentist’s office.

What is Delta Dental doing with regards to teledentistry?

Delta Dental covers teledentistry appointments at the same benefit levels as diagnostic services to ensure that enrollees have coverage for their dental needs while staying safe from COVID-19. We’re encouraging dentists to use teledentistry for emergency diagnoses and non-emergency consultations. Delta Dental dentists are also eligible for discounts on teledentistry services. What’s more, Delta Dental is looking into partnerships with teledentistry companies to improve the experience for both dentists and their patients.

How will teledentistry change the industry?

COVID-19 has been disruptive to the entire economy, and the dental industry is no exception. That disruption is more than just economic, however. Expectations about what it means to go to the dentist are also changing. Dental patients may expect teledentistry to be included as a standard part of any insurance plan (for example, Kaiser Permanente is launching plans with a heavy focus on telehealth) and they may shy away from plans and dentists that can’t accommodate it. Patients who live in remote areas may also find expanded access to professional care because of teledentistry.

For dentists, teledentistry is more than just another option or add-on when it comes to providing care and in-person treatments. It may become a new source of income in the form of seeing more patients virtually.

For brokers, staying on top of the latest developments, industry best practices and customer expectations about teledentistry will become ever more important.

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