3‑minute read

Join our guest blog­ger, Devin McBray­er, as she explores the role of den­tal ben­e­fits in the fast-grow­ing gig econ­o­my. Devin is a Leg­isla­tive and Pol­i­cy Ana­lyst based in Sacra­men­to, Cal­i­for­nia.

The large major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans have den­tal ben­e­fits — 77% in fact, accord­ing to the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Den­tal Plans. Most Amer­i­cans receive this cov­er­age through their employ­er or groups like AARP. How­ev­er, the job mar­ket is chang­ing. Each year, more Amer­i­cans are leav­ing tra­di­tion­al work­places to join the gig econ­o­my and be their own boss. This shift could change the land­scape of the ben­e­fits indus­try in the very near future.

Who’s in the gig economy?

Near­ly one quar­ter of Amer­i­cans earn some or all of their income in the gig econ­o­my, Edi­son Research esti­mates. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, a 2019 sur­vey by Bankrate shows that almost half of Mil­len­ni­al work­ers work in the gig econ­o­my in some capac­i­ty. While that’s more than any oth­er gen­er­a­tion, a 2018 Pru­den­tial study notes that Gen X‑ers work the most hours per week in their gig jobs of any gen­er­a­tion and are also more like­ly to rely exclu­sive­ly on gig work for income. Baby boomers tend to use gig work to make extra mon­ey in retire­ment.

Do gig jobs offer dental benefits?

The increas­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans work­ing odd jobs for TaskRab­bit or dri­ving for Uber may not receive tra­di­tion­al employ­ee ben­e­fits, includ­ing den­tal cov­er­age. That can cause anx­i­ety, when an esti­mat­ed 44% of Amer­i­can gig work­ers rely on the gig econ­o­my as the sole source of their income. Gig work­ers might be able to afford to pur­chase indi­vid­ual den­tal cov­er­age direct­ly from a car­ri­er or through their state’s exchange, but for some, that cov­er­age might be more than they can afford. A 2017 study by Free­lancers Union & Upwork found that over half of free­lancers dipped into their sav­ings each month to make ends meet.

On the oth­er end of the spec­trum, the gig econ­o­my work­ers using their gig to sup­ple­ment their income from a more tra­di­tion­al employ­er may already have den­tal ben­e­fits from their pri­ma­ry job. If not, they may actu­al­ly use the extra cash to pur­chase indi­vid­ual cov­er­age.

What does the trend mean for benefits brokers?

Gig work­ers, espe­cial­ly those who have nev­er had access to employ­er-spon­sored ben­e­fits, may need edu­ca­tion about the val­ue of den­tal cov­er­age. Adults with den­tal ben­e­fits are more like­ly to vis­it the den­tist and seek pre­ven­tive care, accord­ing to the 2017 Delta Den­tal Plans Asso­ci­a­tion, Adult Oral Health and Well-being Sur­vey. Rou­tine den­tal exams can detect health prob­lems ear­ly and low­er the risk for cost­ly con­di­tions down the road like crowns, implants or even oral can­cers.

The rise of the gig econ­o­my could also change the way that den­tal ben­e­fits are sold to this pop­u­la­tion. For work­ers in the gig econ­o­my exclu­sive­ly, indi­vid­ual den­tal plans with com­pet­i­tive cov­er­age and pric­ing will become increas­ing­ly impor­tant. Many gig work­ers use apps like Lyft and Post­mates to earn mon­ey, which may sig­nal that they’re more like­ly to pur­chase insur­ance online and look for plans geared toward tech-savvy con­sumers.

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