Broker blog from Delta Dental

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What to expect in 2022 benefits trends

In the midst of the Great Resignation, benefits are more important than ever for groups and individuals alike. About 37% of employees would rather receive more substantial benefits than additional salaries or bonuses.

That means that in-office perks like free snacks or casual dress won’t necessarily cut it on their own. Instead, workers are looking for more specific, long-term investments into their financial and physical well-being.

Voluntary benefits

Historically, companies have offered blanket benefits and resources that give the same support to all their employees. Often, benefits packages are designed to satisfy employees in key groups, like emerging talent and leadership, while other employees’ needs are prioritized much lower.

Employees with mature careers and families to care for have different priorities in mind than those who are just starting out. In 2022, many employers are looking to design more flexible benefits packages so that all employees get more of the coverage they want, with less fluff. That means adding opt-in benefits like pet insurance, critical illness plans and increased mental health support.

Expanded health services

The pandemic solidly established the connection between employee well-being and productivity ― and employers took note. About 32% of employers indicated they were working on expanding and strengthening their virtual care or telehealth programs. Another 25% said that they would increase the mental health support services offered to employees.

Individuals who purchase their plans directly from you are also looking for virtual care programs. With these kinds of benefits becoming valuable, expect to see Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) increase in 2022 as well.

Flexible work arrangements

Employees want to be able to design the work-life balance they need, rather than trying to fit in to what their company has previously set. The good news is if your group clients are looking to hire in 2022, you can share with them that flexible work will be an easy way to drive applications and retain employees.

Flexibility is the fastest growing priority for job seekers. Jobs that offer remote work receive four times the applications than onsite jobs do, LinkedIn found. But flexibility and remote work aren’t just good for getting new applications — employees who are satisfied with their work schedules and locations are more likely to enjoy working for you and recommend your workplace, according to the same study.

Paid family leave and child care assistance

The lines that separate work time and home life blurred significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and enrollees are looking for benefits that acknowledge the realities of life. Only 40% of employers offer paid family leave for both mothers and fathers, and only 6% offer child care benefits, despite many parents working full-time.

The lack of reliably safe child care during the pandemic has enrollees looking for financial support when it comes to child care and paid time off to take care of their kids. To build a benefits package that supports your enrollees and their kids, consider rebates or financial help with the costs of daycare, or even adding more paid time off to care for young children.

Investments for financial security

Did you know many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck? After roughly 9.6 million U.S. workers lost their jobs due to COVID-19, the stress of living without a solid financial backup has many people looking to boost their savings. Employees are looking to their employers for support when it comes to money, and they’re open to more than just a higher salary.

Employees indicate that financial benefits — like tools that automatically put part of their paycheck towards debt — would lead to less financial stress in their lives. Programs like emergency cash grants or loan programs have shown great results as well. In one study, 72% of employees who benefited from a hardship fund expressed they were more likely to stay with their employer and about 65% indicated that the fund greatly lessened their financial stress.

Whether you work primarily with groups or individuals, keep in mind that enrollees are looking for support. By taking a flexible approach to benefits packages that allow different priorities to shine, you’re expanding your pool of potential enrollees.

Help your self-insured groups promote preventive care

Making full use of diagnostic and preventive services is one of the best things your group clients can do to stay healthy and save money. Regular trips to the dentist can help catch little problems before they become big ones. That means members can avoid potentially costly and painful dental problems and groups can save money and avoid lost productivity, all by increasing D&P utilization.

Enter the preventive care reminder emails

Help your self-insured group clients promote D&P utilization with an opt-in email series. This email campaign, available for self-insured groups, targets members who haven’t generated any dental claims in the past seven months. As part of this campaign, members will receive a series of three emails:

  1. An email reminding them to schedule an appoint for a cleaning and exam.
  2. A congratulatory email after their visit applauding them for taking charge of their oral health. This email will also encourage them to set a reminder to return to the dentist in six months.
  3. A reminder email to schedule another exam and cleaning (if they chose to set one).

Does this email series really work?

By comparing claims data across different groups, we’ve found a substantial increase in preventive care utilization rates among employees who receive and open preventive care reminder emails.

Higher D&P utilization means healthier smiles for members, more savings for group clients and another perk you can use to make selling Delta Dental even easier. That’s what we call win-win-win.

Are you interested in the preventive care reminder campaign for your self-insured group clients? Contact your Account Executive!

How to help your clients in the fight against diabetes

One in three Americans will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime if current trends continue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chances are a significant number of your clients’ employees are — or will be — seriously affected by the disease.

The estimated annual cost of diabetes in the U.S. is more than $327 billion, meaning that almost one in four dollars spent on health care is used to care for people with diabetes. The estimated cost in lost productivity alone is $90 billion. And research shows that the higher health care spending associated with diabetes actually begins well before diagnosis.

Fortunately, early screening and detection can help delay or even prevent complications from diabetes. Evidence suggests that periodontal changes are the first clinical manifestation of the condition. Regular dental check-ups can therefore play a crucial role in reducing the devastating toll of diabetes.

November is American Diabetes Month, so it’s the perfect time to think about how you can help your clients’ employees in the fight against diabetes.

The role of oral health care in diabetes

Many of your clients’ employees with diabetes probably aren’t even aware that they have the disease. As many as 20% of people who have diabetes don’t know they do, according to the CDC, and most with prediabetes (84%) are unaware of their condition.

Diabetes causes serious problems throughout the body, and the mouth is no exception. Diabetes can increase the sugar in saliva, which feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities, and it reduces the body’s ability to fight oral infection. People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing gum disease, which can lead to pain, chewing difficulties and even tooth loss. People with diabetes should visit the dentist regularly for check-ups and cleaning. 

An oral exam can help detect diabetes because, like many other conditions, it often shows its first symptoms in the mouth. If symptoms are detected early enough, your clients’ employees can not only delay but possibly prevent progression.

Educate your clients’ employees on diabetes and oral health

Delta Dental plans offer several options to keep employees up to date with regular check-ups and cleanings. We also offer resources for groups to remind their employees of the importance of early diagnosis during American Diabetes Month. They can:

Offer support for your clients’ employees with diabetes

If your clients haven’t added SmileWay® Wellness Benefits to their employees’ plans already, ask them to consider selecting the option as part of their employees’ dental package. Available for Delta Dental PPO™ plans, SmileWay Wellness Benefits are for employees diagnosed with chronic health conditions such as diabetes. The benefits provide these employees with additional annual cleanings and gum treatments that help treat oral issues associated with the disease.

Eligible enrollees can receive these added benefits each calendar or contract year:

If your clients have employees with chronic conditions, encourage them to offer SmileWay Wellness Benefits as part of their coverage.

During American Diabetes Month, don’t forget the crucial role that oral health can play in detecting and managing diabetes.

COVID-19 by the numbers

The early days of the pandemic brought a tidal wave of changes to the dental industry. As a broker, you know that those shockwaves ripple out to affect your business. Understanding how COVID-19 impacted patients, dentists and the dental insurance industry helps you plan for the future and informs how you can best serve your clients. Let’s take a deep dive into claims data, patient surveys and expert opinions.

The rise of teledentistry

During the early stages of the pandemic in the United States, dental offices were closed to physical appointments for weeks. This led to a massive surge in the popularity of teledentistry services. Synchronous appointments (those with live phone or video interaction between dentists and their patients) saw a 3,000% increase between 2019 and 2020, according to Delta Dental claims during that period. Asynchronous appointments (where patients took photos or videos that were sent to a dentist for later review) saw a 1,000% increase in the same time period.

The use of teledentistry has declined as the pandemic has worn on and dentist offices have reopened, but 2021’s synchronous and asynchronous appointment numbers still remain six times and two times higher than 2019 levels, respectively.

More states also updated their teledentistry laws during the pandemic. Based on Delta Dental’s internal tracking, fourteen states added teledentistry regulations to their laws or expanded existing regulations, including states like Texas that had previously not allowed the practice of teledentistry at all.

Most importantly, in a phone survey of teledentistry patients during the pandemic, patients expressed widespread satisfaction with their options. This aligns with pre-pandemic expectations that patients had about teledentistry, in which 78% of patients surveyed expected to use teledentistry within the next five years. That same group anticipated that working people, children and people with disabilities would benefit the most from teledentistry.

Dentists also had praise for teledentistry, with over 80% of dentists identifying it as useful for improving access to oral care, increasing specialists’ access to rural and underserved communities and as a time-saving technique. Virtual visits may not replace in-person checkups, but they remain a valuable tool for both dentists and patients, and an important consideration for your clients.

Keeping dentists (and you) in business

The beginning of the pandemic was marked by profound economic uncertainty as dental practices closed and people sheltered in place. General practitioner income dropped nearly 18% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Recognizing that without adequate resources dentist offices may be forced to close, Delta Dental was able to assist with loans, reimbursements for personal protective equipment (PPE) costs and free teledentistry tools that allowed dentists to see patients remotely.

Loans offered in partnership with Provide (formerly Lendeavor) allowed dentists to make practice acquisitions, expand to new locations, purchase commercial real estate and equipment, build out their practices and refinance existing practice and commercial real estate debt. These loans featured favorable terms and conditions, such as covered interest for 24 months, deferred payments for 6 months, repayment terms of 10+ years and working capital of up to $200,000.

Delta Dental also offered a supplemental reimbursement for qualifying evaluations and consultations during the second half of 2020. This Return to Care reimbursement led to an additional $80 million for dentists last year to help offset the costs of PPE and office cleanings.

The pandemic saw the rollout of two teledentistry options for Delta Dental members: Delta Dental – Virtual Consult and Toothpic.

  • Virtual Consult is a synchronous service where members can use a smart device to have a live video chat with a Delta Dental dentist.
  • Toothpic is an asynchronous service that allows members to take photos of problem areas and get an assessment from a Delta Dental dentist within 24 hours.

These services are free for members and dentists. Most importantly for your clients, these options expand access to assist patients who may have difficulty making it to in-person visits or prefer a remote appointment.

How patients used their benefits

The early stages of the pandemic saw a drastic decline in the number of patients going to the dentist’s office. One of the main reasons for the decline was that the sharp economic shutdown led to over 20 million Americans losing their jobs (PDF) and their dental coverage as well. Of these 20 million, nearly half found themselves without insurance at all. The remaining jobless got dental coverage through resources like Medicaid.

This decline in visits to the dentist office had a profound effect on patients’ oral health. 

In 2019, the most common procedures according to Delta Dental claims data were either routine preventive care or evaluations for specific issues. This shifted in 2020, when some of the most common procedures were fillings and root planing, which help address the effects of dental neglect.

In addition to the economic hardships COVID-19 brought to patients, COVID also increased mental and emotional strain. Since the pandemic began, the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders has risen from about 10% to over 40%.

These symptoms can manifest in jaw clenching and teeth grinding; based on Delta Dental claims data, the number of patients requiring occlusal guards to prevent damage rose nearly 10% in the second half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. 

Anxiety and depression can also worsen an unhealthy diet or substance abuse, which can lead to oral health issues such as cavities. This may also help to explain the surge in fillings and scaling and root planing procedures in 2020.

Health and safety in the dental office

Even though COVID-19 is spread by exhaled aerosolized droplets, visits to the dentist’s office proved safer than visiting any other medical professional during the pandemic. Nearly 100% of dentist offices rapidly adopted enhanced infection control measures like pre-appointment screenings, in-office air purification and antiviral mouthwashes. Once vaccines became available, they saw widespread adoption amongst dentists, even before state and federal mandates. By the second quarter of 2021, over 90% of dentists had received at least one vaccination shot for COVID-19.

Patients also view dentists as valuable sources of information about their overall health in addition to their oral health. Two-thirds of dentists reported receiving questions from patients about the COVID-19 vaccine (PDF), according to the ADA. 

Dentists rose to the occasion, with over 80% reported feeling prepared for these discussions and 95% believing it was important to have such discussions with patients.

What did we learn from COVID-19?

Here are three key takeaways for you and your practice as you look to the future.

  • Encourage group clients to choose plans that truly meet their needs. A “Cadillac” insurance plan can be an attractive proposition for you and your clients, but it may be more coverage than they need. Conversely, in periods of economic uncertainty, individuals may decide that they should forego dental insurance entirely, but this can lead to small issues going untreated and becoming major ones. Helping your group and individual clients identify a plan that fits their needs (and their wallets) early on can go a long way towards keeping them healthy and happy no matter the economic forecast.
  • Foster relationships with individual clients that are about more than just sales. One thing COVID-19 showed was that in the face of uncertainty, people were desperate for answers. As an insurance industry expert, you can be well-suited to advise your clients and help them identify their needs, choose a plan that fits and seek care. Being able to offer advice on wellness and on current topics, such as the safety of vaccines, can go a long way towards building lasting relationships with your clients.
  • Have a resiliency plan in mind in case of an economic downturn.  The pandemic demonstrated that massive disruptions to the way we do business and live our lives aren’t just a possibility but an inevitability. Even if we don’t see another global pandemic within our lifetimes, there will undoubtedly be more localized disruptions from natural disasters like hurricanes, major storms and wildfires. Diversifying your client base (such as by selling to individuals if you currently focus on group clients) can help you to weather periods of economic uncertainty.

Orthodontics are becoming a more important benefit

Brace yourself — National Orthodontic Health Month is here! Orthodontics are more than just a luxury treatment for teens; they’re an important benefit that groups can use to attract and retain talent and that individuals of any age may need for positive dental outcomes. Here’s a closer look at how the market for orthodontic coverage has grown and what kind of coverage Delta Dental offers.

Braces — a growing benefit

Braces do more than give people a pretty smile. By ensuring proper alignment of the teeth, orthodontics can make it easier to bite, chew and speak. Misaligned teeth are also harder to clean and can wear in unusual ways. Far from being a luxury, orthodontic treatment can be essential to proper dental health.

When you imagine an average person with braces, you probably picture a teenager. While most of the over 4 million people in the United States who are currently undergoing orthodontic treatment are teens, over 25% of current patients are adults, and these numbers are expected to grow. The number of adults seeing orthodontists is at an all-time high, according to the American Association of Orthodontists, and that means the pool of prospective ortho patients is wider than it’s ever been. Even childless adults, such as skilled professionals straight out of college or grad school, may be interested in orthodontic benefits.

Employees expect to see dental insurance among their benefits, and orthodontic coverage can help employers’ plans stand out from competitors. Fortunately, Delta Dental plans offer orthodontic coverage at affordable price points.

Without insurance, prospective orthodontic patients can expect to pay between $3,000 and $6,000 for comprehensive treatment. Delta Dental plans can help cut these costs in half.

What kind of orthodontic coverage does Delta Dental offer?

Orthodontic coverage is available under both Delta Dental PPO™ and DeltaCare® USA:

  • Group-sponsored Delta Dental PPO plans vary and may include orthodontic coverage. Some plans limit orthodontic coverage to children under 19, and others cover orthodontics for both children and adults.
  • Among individual PPO plans, the Premium Plan includes coverage for child and adult orthodontics.
  • All DeltaCare USA plans, including group-sponsored and individual, cover orthodontics.

PPO plans are usually subject to lifetime orthodontic maximum, and DeltaCare USA plans have set copayments with no maximums or deductibles.

Specific orthodontic coverage varies by plan but may include:

  • Treatment for children only or both adults and children
  • Pre-orthodontic treatment visits
  • Exam and start-up records
  • X‑rays
  • Orthodontist-recommended tooth extractions
  • Comprehensive orthodontic treatment
  • Post-treatment records

Plans generally don’t cover the following:

  • Orthodontic treatment for children delivered in two phases
  • Appliances to correct harmful habits (like thumb-sucking)
  • Jaw surgery to facilitate orthodontic treatment
  • Treatment to prepare for other non-covered surgical procedures

Alternative appliances like Invisalign, mail-order appliances and teleorthodontistry generally aren’t, but Delta Dental usually still covers some of the orthodontic treatment costs, such as x‑rays and exams.

Help members understand their out-of-pocket costs. For PPO members, recommend they ask their orthodontist for a pre-treatment estimate. DeltaCare USA members can check their plan details for their copayments.

From children to adults, the interest in straighter healthier smiles is only growing. You won’t want to miss out on this rapidly expanding market! Be sure to talk to your groups and individual clients about orthodontic coverage.

With Delta Dental’s plans, more clients can find the orthodontic coverage they’re looking for at a price point they can afford, and that’s a great reason to smile.

Selling dental insurance to the Asian American and Pacific Islander market

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. So what better time to learn more about this diverse community and how to better serve your current and prospective Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) individual clients?

Perhaps more than any other group, the AAPI community presents opportunities for dental insurance brokers who sell directly to individuals.

That’s intriguing. But when we say “AAPI,” who are we talking about, exactly?

While this can be a complicated and somewhat divisive question, AAPI is all people of Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander ancestry, according to The Asian Pacific Institute.

This can include people with origins from:

  • East Asia (including China, Japan and Korea)
  • Southeast Asia (including Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam)
  • South Asia (including India and Pakistan)
  • Central Asia (including Afghanistan and Mongolia)
  • Hawaii and the Pacific Islands

In all, more than 50 countries fall under the AAPI umbrella.

Wow, that covers a lot of people. How do I cater to such a diverse group?

Not surprisingly, finding a “one-size-fits all” approach to attract and support AAPI clients probably isn’t realistic. For example, different Asian American and Pacific Islander groups vary widely in terms of income, education level, languages spoken and English fluency, and determining the specific needs of the AAPI population in your area will require some research on your part.

That said, a recent Nielsen report found some commonalities among Asian American consumers’ demographics, media preferences and buying habits.

They’re asking about you.

Broker tip: Building loyalty with your AAPI clients is important, not only to retain their business but also to attract new customers from their network of family, friends and neighbors.

When it comes to doing business with the AAPI community, positive recommendations — from friends, family and the internet — are critical.

  • More than 40% of Asian Americans surveyed said family members influence their buying decisions
  • Almost 30% said that they prefer to buy products and services their friends approve of
  • Almost 75% said that they read online reviews by others before making a purchase 

Speaking of family, AAPI households tend to be large. And affluent.

Broker tips:

  • Successfully attracting one AAPI client could potentially lead to a lasting business relationship with the client’s extended family.
  • Discuss dental plans for families and for seniors.

The AAPI community has a higher-than-average household income of $85,000, compared to $60,000 for the total population. Asians also have the highest top and median incomes among any U.S. population.

An important caveat is that there’s a large income disparity among specific groups within the AAPI community. For example, a recent Pew Research study found the following:

  • Asians at the top of their income distribution earn more than 10 times more than Asians at the bottom
  • Indian households have a much higher than average household income and rate of college graduation ($100,000 and 72%)
  • For certain Southeast and Central Asian populations, the poverty rate is as high as 35%

One of the reasons AAPI households earn more on average than the overall population is size. They’re 17% larger than the average U.S. household and are often multigenerational.

The multigenerational element is important, because heads of AAPI households are more likely than other populations to make purchase decisions for the entire household, including their spouses, children, parents and relatives.

The AAPI community loves technology and media.

Broker tips:

  • Consider targeted television and internet advertising to attract new clients.
  • Maintain an online presence, including social media accounts and an attractive, useful and up-to-date website optimized for mobile use.

Not only do AAPI households tend to be larger than the U.S. average, these households also tend to be wired. Among AAPI households:

  • 99% have internet access
  • 97% have a smartphone
  • 89% have a computer, which is 13% higher than the overall population

And they use these devices. A lot. AAPI households spend more time than average surfing the web on their computers, social networking on their smartphones, watching video on both computers and tablets, and shopping online.

  • The AAPI community shops online at a rate 34% higher than the total population
  • Almost 90% have purchased a product or service online in the past year

The AAPI community also spends another 23 hours per week watching television — more than any other group in the U.S.

Language can be tricky.

Broker tips:

  • Determine both the ethnic groups and age groups within the AAPI community you want to target.
  • Depending on which demographic you want to reach, advertising on native-language media outlets, such as cable channels, radio, magazines, newspapers, and online and social media, might make sense.
  • To attract younger clients, conventional English-language advertising, or a mix of both, might be more effective.
  • If you have a staff, determine whether anyone speaks a relevant language and if not, consider hiring someone who does.

For both marketing and interactions, language can be a challenge. Unlike other groups that share a single language, the AAPI community speaks more than 50 languages and thousands of dialects.

Of course, many members of the AAPI community also speak English — among native Hawaiians, that number is nearly 100%. But English literacy differs greatly between immigrants and those born in the United States. 

The key factor here is age. For example, among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under the age of the 35:

  • 34% were born outside the U.S.
  • 95% percent speak English well or exclusively

Contrast that with ages 55 and older:

  • Approximately 85% were born outside the U.S.
  • For several communities, such as Thai and Vietnamese, the number who were foreign-born approaches 100%
  • 56% have limited English proficiency (and more than 85% for certain groups, such as Vietnamese and Hmong)
  • Only 15% speak English at home

Attracting and working with older AAPI clients might then seem daunting. But a bit of community research can help. Find out who the largest AAPI population is in your community and focus on them. If there are several, Bill Imada, Founder and Chairman of AAPI-focused ad agency the IW Group, advises starting with one group, learning from your experience, and then using the lessons learned to focus on others.

And when you advertise, be sure to feature images of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. A recent Porter Novelli report found that people who didn’t feel represented in a company’s marketing were less likely to support that company.

Finally, if you have a staff, find out if anyone is at least partly fluent in a relevant language — you might already have an invaluable resource and not even know it!

Being able to communicate effectively with these clients is important. That’s because insurance brokers often play an essential role in the providing the AAPI community with access to the health and dental coverage they need. For example, according to recent data about California’s insurance marketplace, most Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese enrollees buy plans through certified insurance agents, as opposed to community groups or the Covered California website.

Support the AAPI community

Broker tip: Support your local community and work with organizations that serve it.

Family and community are very important to the AAPI community, and more than half said they’re more likely to purchase brands that support a cause they care about.

With that in mind, a great way to promote yourself and your business is to support local and national organizations that help the AAPI community. Certainly, a cash contribution is always welcome, but other suggestions for getting out and making a difference are:

  • Working with a local organization to expand dental access to the community
  • Volunteering or collaborating on an outreach project to help recent immigrants navigate the individual health and dental insurance market
  • Advertising or sponsoring an event to promote dental care

Some local and national organizations that serve the Asian and Pacific Islander communities include:

That’s helpful. But what else can Delta Dental do to help me?

Older Asian Americans and recently arrived immigrants can face challenges accessing oral health care. They might be unfamiliar with the U.S. health care system and have difficulty communicating in English.

Fortunately, Delta Dental offers materials and services that can help you make it easier for them:

  • The Language Assistance Program. Through this free service, your clients can get professional translation and interpretive services. This includes phone assistance, written materials and more. They can even request in-person interpreter services for dental visits, with 72 hours’ notice.
  • The Find a Dentist tool. Your clients can search for dentists who meet their specific language needs, such as Chinese or Tagalog. You can even use the directory to compile a list for them.

Supporting an individual client base as diverse as the AAPI community can be a challenge. But with some research and some help from Delta Dental, you can create strong relationships that can last for years, and perhaps even generations, to come.

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