Dental plans are becoming one of the most commonly desired benefits among staff. Julia Rampen examines the products available and what employers should consider when choosing a scheme.
How many employees think it is OK not to brush their teeth after a night out? Two-fifths of them, it seems, if the workplace demographic fits the national picture.
Not only that, but 14% will have opened a bottle with their teeth and a few – 2% – believe that applying toothpaste to their teeth with a finger is an adequate substitute for a brush, according to a 2012 survey by Simplyhealth.
Even if the spectre of an office filled with rotting smiles is set aside, there are many reasons that employers should be interested in their employees’ teeth. A shortage of NHS dentists in prosperous areas and the high charges levied by private dentists have made dental plans one of the most valued benefits around.
They also encourage employees to take preventative measures, reducing the likelihood that they will then have to take time off to deal with painful dental surgery or worse.
And, as more and more employers switch to flexible benefit platforms, it is one of the more meaty supplements that they can offer alongside core benefits such as pensions.
Yet in order to make a dental plan both attractive to employees and value for money, rewards professionals must navigate a market in which comparing products can be complex; long-term benefits need to be weighed against short-term costs; and communication may make the difference between grateful employees and resentful ones.
“A lot of the time we’re seeing a dental scheme being put in place without too much thought being put into it,” says Buck Consultants benefit consultant James Love. “But more recently, the HR fraternity is looking at it and saying: ‘OK, we’ve got a dental scheme – why have we got a dental scheme? What is it actually providing for our members, and do we need to do anything about it?’”
But working out the costs and benefits of a product can be difficult. “Unlike PMI or other insurances, which all offer virtually the same cover, dental can be quite different. No insurer will have the same benefits,” says Love.
Corporate dental plans fall into two main categories. A reimbursement model (also known as an indemnity plan) pays out a pre-defined limit for each treatment, governed by an overall limit. By contrast, under the co-insurance model, the insurer pays out 100% reimbursement up to the defined benefit limit for all routine work. This type of policy is governed by an annual maximum limit.
Then there is accident and emergency insurance, which covers blows to the mouth, oral cancer and sometimes sports injuries as well.
Comparing reimbursement and co-insurance models can be confusing. “It’s a real minefield about what works out better value,” says Love. “You always need to be aware of what is out there for similar cost. We come across some terms which are very expensive for what is being offered.”
There is also the difficulty of pinpointing what is relevant to the workforce. “The provider might say, ‘We have better cancer cover for extreme cases.’ But while there may be not so good value at the very high levels, other products focused on the lower levels – where 80% of the people are using it – could be a lot better value,” adds Love.
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