Dental care for employees: Benefit with bite

The  CIPD’s latest reward survey  says dental insurance is one of the fastest-growing staff benefits. But does it represent a real benefit to both employees and employers, or is it simply a cheap and easy option?

As it gets harder and harder to register with an NHS dentist, patients are finding themselves travelling increasingly far afield for even a basic check-up. For many, private dentistry has become the only practical option, although 43% of the UK population put off visiting the dentist because of the cost.

Nevertheless, following the introduction of the new NHS dental health contract and remuneration system in April 2006, the dental care market enjoyed a couple of buoyant years, with subscriber numbers growing by 31% in 2006 and 10% in 2007.

While the bulk of these subscribers are individuals, companies have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. This trend looks likely to continue: a recent survey by healthcare business group Simplyhealth found that 71% of employers believe companies are responsible for looking after employees’ oral health. So how can dental cover help employers?

Peter Lauris, sales and marketing director at healthcare insurer Medicash, says one of the main pluses for organisations is a potential end to the disruption caused by staff taking time off to attend dental appointments. He points out: “One of the unseen aspects is the effect on colleagues having to cover for those attending appointments.” Private dental insurance gives employees the option of finding a dentist close to home or work.

Time off

James Glover, Simplyhealth’s corporate sales and marketing director, says employees who participate in a company-paid plan will often arrange dental appointments for outside working hours – it’s a case of “the company has provided this for me, so I will do it in my own time”.

The financial benefits are clear, too – not least that dental cover is a very measurable benefit. Pam Whelan, Denplan’s corporate sales manager, says: “Companies are keener than ever to understand what benefits they are giving their employees. With a dental plan, members are encouraged to visit a dentist twice a year, so that’s two touchpoints for them.

“Private medical care is great in the event of an emergency situation, but that doesn’t happen very often. We encourage members to use the dental plan for preventative measures, so from a value for money perspective, you can’t really ask for a better benefit.”

Dental plans can be offered as standalone benefits or as bolt-ons to existing private medical insurance (PMI) policies. Where they are company-paid, the only financial cost to the employers is the P11D benefit, the tax implications of having a company-paid benefit. Denplan offers only standalone dental plans, and reports good, steady growth over the past couple of years. But Whelan says: “As to whether they will replace traditional PMI plans, that’s a dangerous area to go into.”

Good option

Ivan Kennedy, general manager at Bupa Dental, agrees: “I don’t see people ditching the PMI to offer dental cover instead,” he says.”[But] certainly with start-up companies, our sales people are seeing that if a PMI does come in over budget, dental cover looks like a good option”.

As Kennedy also points out, dental cover represents something very tangible. Employees can see that the company has provided this benefit for them, and they are reminded of this several times a year. And where the employee is paying all or part of the cost of the policy, there’s the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you won’t be hit with a massive bill.

It seems then that the dental plan, while not as glamorous as its cousin, the PMI, is actually of greater benefit to the average employee. It can cost the employer relatively little, yet offers a measurable benefit that can have a real impact on both productivity and employee engagement.

When it comes to setting one up, companies can either contact providers direct or get a broker to do the donkey-work for them. Glover says his sales team sees a 50:50 split between selling direct and via brokers.

Having invested in a dental plan, it’s in the employer’s best interest that it is well used. Few people really read their benefits package, so communication is important. Plan providers will work with employers to promote the benefits – this might be through the company intranet or in-house magazine, by using payslip attachments or messaging, or through informal visits and presentations. And word-of-mouth – the recommendation of existing plan participants – works particularly well.

As Lauris says: “We like people to claim, because the finance director is looking at the expenditure.”

Case study: The Health Store

The Health Store is one of the UK’s largest distributors of health foods and supplements to independent health stores. Wellbeing is at the heart of the business, and the company has introduced the HSA Dental Plan for all 120 staff.

Personnel manager Denise Bradley explains: “As a health business we endeavour to take care of our own, providing benefits to help keep them happy, healthy and at work. That’s why we are continually assessing the healthcare market, ensuring we’re offering benefits that are not only relevant but that meet our employees’ needs.

“Offering this type of benefit specifically helps individuals unable to find an NHS dentist. But it also helps ensure that cost isn’t a barrier for staff seeking treatment.

“A staff member was recently absent from work due to an abscess. Using his HSA Dental Plan, he was able to access a dentist quickly, be treated and get back to work in a week. Without the plan, he may have had to suffer for longer, leading to more time off work. So, in this case, the HSA Dental Plan benefited both our employee and our sickness absence levels.

“Our employees think this benefit is brilliant, and I believe others looking to work at The Health Store will think the same.”

Money box

  • Dental cover can cost from under £4 per person, per month, for a minimum of 1,000 employees. Depending on the policy, cover can include partners and children, and, uniquely, Denplan offers 24-hour, worldwide cover to all participants.
  • Cover can be company-paid or employee-paid, but arranged by the company. Company-paid is cheapest as it is regarded by the insurer as the least risky option. Reimbursement can be carried out typically within five working days of a claim being submitted.

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