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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