Dental insurance an affordable benefit

Employer-sponsored plans have positive payback Prepared by the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust
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In the not-too-distant past, it was rare for a person of advanced age to enjoy a mouth full of teeth. That has changed dramatically in the United States, and the availability of dental care—made possible in large part by employer—sponsored plans-has played a major role in this positive trend.

In the past three decades, the number of Americans covered by dental insurance has increased dramatically. In 1970, a mere 6 percent of all Americans had private dental insurance. Today, nearly half the U.S. population is covered by employer-sponsored dental insurance.

As the number of Americans covered by dental insurance increased, so did the frequency of regular, preventive care. From 1979-1990, regular checkups increased by 70 percent. At the same time, more expensive procedures such as use of amalgam fillings declined by 27 percent. Greater access to dental care has had a dramatic impact on oral health in this country. In 1960, Americans over the age of 65 retained an average of only seven original teeth. Today, an individual in this group retains an average of 24 original teeth.

These figures illustrate the overall impact dental insurance has made on the U.S. population, but there are many other factors a veterinarian who is contemplating offering dental benefits to staff may want to consider.

One consideration is the financial impact of preventive care. Veterinarians understand the importance of preventive care, both medical and dental, for their animal patients. Dental insurance emphasizes preventive care, which is what makes it so cost-effective.

One study examining 15 years of claims data indicated that every dollar spent on prevention saved $4 in treatment. Other studies indicate the benefit is likely even higher. The American Dental Hygienists' Association estimates that every dollar spent on prevention in oral health care saves $8 to $50 on more costly restorative and emergency procedures.

In short, money invested in dental insurance premiums and preventive care can save money spent on more costly procedures, which in turn also helps keep insurance premiums low.

The investment also pays dividends in productivity benefits, as employees with good oral health miss less time from work. The U.S. surgeon general estimates that working Americans lose about 164 million hours every year to dental disease or dental visits. Children lose an additional 51 million hours of school to dental-related illness, which causes more lost work time for parents.

A related consideration is the impact on the overall health of staff. In addition to the obvious benefits of healthy teeth and gums, there are strong links between dental health and overall health. Dental health affects some of the body's most essential functions, including speaking, chewing and swallowing. The connection doesn't stop there. Studies have indicated relationships between periodontal diseases and systemic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, and pregnancy complications.

Another consideration is the expectations of staff. Employees want, and more and more have come to expect, dental benefits. A 1999 LIMRA International study found that dental coverage is second only to medical insurance in terms of a desired benefit. Of good news to employers is the fact that dental insurance is relatively affordable to provide—the typical dental plan costs a fraction of the average major-medical plan.

Despite the relatively low cost of dental insurance, finding affordable and comprehensive coverage has been a challenge for veterinarians. It is a challenge the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust has addressed.

Thanks to the group purchasing power of the AVMA GHLIT, veterinarians and their staff can benefit from the high-quality dental coverage and pricing typically reserved for large groups. The coverage is underwritten by Ameritas Life/First Ameritas, one of the leading dental carriers in the nation.

Employer contribution levels are flexible; an employer may choose to pay all or some of the premium, or may elect for employees to pay their own premium.

The AVMA GHLIT recognizes the importance of offering dental insurance as a means to improve dental health of members and their staff, and as a valuable benefit veterinarians can offer to attract and retain employees.

In a climate of ever-rising medical insurance costs, dental insurance is one element veterinarians can add to their employee benefits package, and enjoy tremendous payback for a relatively small investment.

The last enrollment period for AVMA members and their staff to purchase this valuable benefit without incurring late-entrant penalties is Jan. 1-31, 2005. Don't miss out on this opportunity. Contact the AVMA GHLIT office at (800) 621-6360 for more information.