Two common denominators are reshaping the dental and vision benefits equation: One is increasing awareness of their respective correlation to overall health, while the other is a growing desire for greater freedom of choice. Together, these key themes are expected to help elevate flat plan participation in a post-healthcare reform environment as employees and their families continue to shoulder more financial responsibility for these benefits.
Integration of dental and vision plans certainly has improved with the help of technology, says Srikanth Lakshminarayanan, senior director for the Center of Excellence at HGS Healthcare, which provides business process management and end-to-end services for healthcare payers and provider organizations. He says the pairing also helps streamline plan administration.
The challenge at hand is to generate and sustain enough interest in these benefits relative to others ancillary and core benefit offerings. A purchasing shift in the marketplace means fewer employers are obtaining their dental benefit from the same carrier that provides medical coverage, according to Evelyn Ireland, executive director of the National Association of Dental Plans.
She says the preference is to bundle dental with a larger range of ancillary benefits such as life and disability coverage, though the dental-vision combination hasn’t changed significantly in recent years. “We went from 11% to over 19% getting it in conjunction with other products” as shown in NADP’s most recent research, she says.
A leading dental and vision carrier took this idea a step further by packaging the former with education assistance. Last summer, the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America began offering to its dental plan members a college tuition benefit managed by SAGE Scholars, Inc. Those employees are able to earn credits that can be used to pay up to one year’s tuition at one of more than 340 private colleges and universities across the nation.
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