Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

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Find in-depth analysis and the latest news on the dental benefits industry.

Remote work and employers: what are the pros and cons?

In 2020, we all learned just how fast the world could adapt to new measures. In the workforce, this has meant relying on coworkers and employees to bring their work home without missing a beat. With a year passed since COVID-19 changed the world, it’s time to reflect on the first year as full-time remote employers, what has been learned from it, and how to continue to adapt moving forward.

Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of remote working:

Pros

Flexibility

Working from home is far from a new concept. In fact, it’s often touted as a job perk by hiring managers. For employees, it often comes down to flexibility. Working remotely can be an opportunity schedule quick errands, focus in a less distracting environment or even to enjoy more time with the pets while still accomplishing the tasks at hand. The freedoms of remote work can be a major morale-booster. A study by PwC recently found that 55% of would like still to keep working from home at least three days a week once it’s safe to return to the office.

Lack of commute

Who wouldn’t choose walking to their living room over an hour commute on an over-stuffed train? Eliminating this often stressful part of the day saves time, money and headaches. It also takes more cars off the road, meaning less air pollution. In November, NASA announced that global nitrogen dioxide concentrations had been reduced by nearly 20% since February of 2020.

Larger pool of candidates

Eliminating a tough commute can also mean a more competitive job market. When people can work from anywhere, it widens the pool of potential candidates. For permanently remote jobs where location isn’t a requirement, employers can reap the benefits with a larger number of viable applicants.

Saved money

Less people in an office means a smaller office space, fewer everyday office expenses like supplies and cleanup, and less utilities at work. These kinds of savings aren’t just beneficial during uncertain times — they can be lucrative to new businesses trying to grow.

Cons

Blurred work/life balance

One of the more complicated issues to arise from remote working has been the stress of balancing a regular workday with our rapidly changing world. When the physical barrier of an office is removed, the lines between professional and personal lives can get a bit fuzzy. While flexible work hours may be a pro, they can become a slippery slope of overtime and burnout if left unchecked. In fact a recent Gallup poll showed that 29% of people who always work from home feel burnt out “very often” or “always.”

Encourage your staff to set up a corner of their home just for work if they can and to stay online for office hours only. Check in regularly to make sure that they feel heard and supported in their work endeavors.

Internet complications

We’ve all heard the horror stories: Someone forgot to mute themselves in a meeting or couldn’t figure out how to turn a Zoom filter off. In 2020, the learning curve got a bit steeper as our toolboxes grew along with our reliance on technology.

A little bit of training and empathy can go a long way in these cases. As expectations change, offer learning guides, webinars and other resources to help employees with the learning process. Additionally, understand that complications can occasionally arise when employees are at the mercy of Wi-Fi, laptops, and other far-from-perfect technologies.

Less organic opportunities for connection

With no watercooler to gather around, those little day-to-day opportunities for staff to connect can be tougher to find. Don’t let it wedge a gap between the team.

Schedule a little time for virtual team-building opportunities, be it a lunch meet-up or a Friday game hour. Take this time to focus on company values and consider how you can foster trust and communication.

As the world continues to change, take some time to reflect on how much you and your team have already adapted and give yourself credit where it’s due. Creating a culture of openness and empathy will help address issues as they arise and keep you connected to your team.

Select ancillary benefits that fit your employees’ needs

Dentist documenting findings during an exam with patient.

To complement your group medical plan, you should select ancillary benefits that add financial value and wellness incentives for your employees.

Nearly 60% of responding hiring managers, human resources professionals and workers identified better benefits as a key strategy to strengthen connections with employees and reduce turnover, according to a 2018 Career Builder survey. Using ancillary benefits to enhance total compensation for employees is a way to do this.

Millennials cite better benefits as a reason to change employers, along with seeking a new role, or career path dissatisfaction.

Why should your company offer ancillary benefits?

An ancillary benefit covers a specific need not addressed by your company’s group medical insurance plan. Dental, vision, life, disability and even pet insurance are complementary products that you can integrate into your benefit package.

This can strengthen your company’s relationship with employees. Ancillary benefits deliver value through access to health care plans and financial solutions that enhance total wellness, lower out-of-pocket expenses and give peace of mind.

With the option to select whatever benefit fits their individual or family needs, employees can customize an overall package that gives them peace of mind and job satisfaction.

Through surveys, you can determine what ancillary benefits employees are seeking, and then shape your benefit package accordingly.

What value do ancillary benefits add to your company?

Offering ancillary benefits shows that your company’s priorities match employees’ priorities. It is an investment that brings returns for your company through better employee health and financial stability, cost effectiveness and increased worker retention.

Companies saved $5.8 billion over four years by offering stand-alone vision plans, according to a study by the HCMS Group. The plan savings came from reduced health care costs, avoided productivity losses and lower turnover rates. These generally include contact lenses or glasses, and allowances for LASIK or PRK refractive surgery, and a comprehensive eye exam. An annual eye exam can reveal symptoms of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood sugar or high cholesterol.

Although 75% of millennials don’t carry life insurance, this benefit becomes more important to employees in later stages of their careers. The average worker has a 30% chance of becoming disabled, so a short-term or long-term insurance plan provides backup. Millennials make up 35% of all pet owners, and a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management revealed that 11% of U.S. employers offered pet insurance, up from 6% in 2014, with one in three Fortune 500 companies offering this ancillary benefit.

How a dental plan delivers value

According to an American Dental Association survey, 30% of young adults have tooth decay. As an ancillary benefit, a dental plan includes diagnostic and preventive services that go beyond maintaining employees’ oral health.

Dentists not only evaluate periodontal disease but also diagnose symptoms of major health issues, such as diabetes, during routine exams. Early detection enables employees to seek treatment that may avoid more expensive interventions. It can help your company control long-term health care costs and provide financial stability for employees.

Delta Dental offers dental plans that easily complement, and integrate with, your existing group health plans. Whether your company contributes to premiums or not, giving access to a dental plan as an ancillary benefit ensures a focus on total wellness and value for employees.

The truth about amalgam fillings

Dental exam

When an employee needs a tooth filled, the dentist can perform this procedure by using a metal-based amalgam or a composite material. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently advised against the use of dental amalgam in high-risk groups. What do these recommendations mean for your employees? Let’s consider the facts about amalgam.

What is the case against dental amalgam?

Amalgam fillings contain a mixture of mercury and a powdered alloy containing silver, tin and copper.

In its recommendations released Sept. 24, 2020, the FDA suggested that certain groups of people, including pregnant and nursing women, children under 6 and people with allergy, pre-existing neurological disease or impaired kidney function may experience harmful effects of mercury exposure.

The FDA cited “uncertainties about the acceptable reference exposure levels for mercury vapor” and the potential for negative health outcomes. The FDA did not cite any new scientific evidence for this position.

What is Delta Dental’s position on dental amalgam?

Amalgam is a long-lasting, clinically effective tooth restorative material and has a proven track record of over 150 years. Based on the scientific evidence available, amalgam fillings do not pose a health risk to children or adults, except the small group of people who are allergic to the metal components of amalgam.

The mercury in fillings is safe in its bound form. When it breaks down, however, mercury can be released as vapor. Exposure to high levels of mercury vapor — higher than those in fillings — can cause damage to the kidneys and brain, according to industrial studies.

Make sure your employees, who may be in risk groups or otherwise have health concerns, know that they have treatment options. The use of amalgam has declined, due to application of alternative materials, according to the recent FDA statement.

There are no changes to Delta Dental’s coverage of restorative treatments such as amalgam and composite fillings.

When should amalgam fillings be removed?

The FDA advises against removing or replacing existing amalgam fillings that are in good condition unless medically necessary. This aligns with Delta Dental’s recommendation.

If an employee has an amalgam filling in good condition, with no nearby decay present in the tooth, the filling should not be removed. Removal may result in loss of tooth structure and unnecessarily releases mercury vapor.

If, however, amalgam removal is warranted, dental offices are required to follow a 2017 ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding procedures and disposal, so your employees can have it safely done.

Teledentistry 101: the virtual office visit

As businesses, schools and organizations continue to adapt to COVID-19, dental offices are embracing new conferencing tools to deliver care safely.

As part of the reopening efforts, more dentists and their patients have turned to teledentistry, an emerging trend that has the power to reshape the industry as we know it. Approximately 25% of dentists reported using some form of virtual, limited evaluation of patients, according to an April COVID-19 economic tracking poll from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute. In July, the HPI poll showed usage slipping to 12%, noting that larger group practices are more likely to use teledentistry than solo practices.

Dr. Nathan Suter, owner of a House, Missouri, dental practice and a consulting firm, Access Teledentistry, predicts teledentistry will become more mainstream. This is due to its multiple uses, such as when a dentist is traveling or if there is a schedule conflict.

For your employees, this is a valuable option in maintaining their oral health. As a primer on teledentistry, here are insights on its use and impact and how Delta Dental is supporting this advance in care.

What is teledentistry?

Teledentistry is when a dentist conducts a virtual consultation via phone, text or video to diagnose issues, offer care advice and determine if an in-person visit is necessary.

Teledentistry appointments can be synchronous, such as a video call where the dentist and patient are interacting with each other, or asynchronous, such as when the patient sends a description of his or her situation and a photo and waits for a reply.

What kind of equipment is needed for teledentistry appointments?

The equipment and software needed may vary based on dentists’ preferences and capabilities. Teledentistry may require nothing more than a phone or may require a smart device, computer or specialized app. Businesses now incorporate videoconferencing software for team meetings, and this can be used in dental consultations.

If dental offices have reopened, why is teledentistry relevant?

Dentist offices may be open, but that doesn’t mean that your employees won’t benefit from teledentistry solutions. Just as working from home has shown the value of video meetings and connecting with co-workers without being in person, employees may find teledentistry a useful option when seeking dental care.

In a public opinion survey, 70% of respondents indicated they would take a COVID-19 vaccine once it is available, and 12% are waiting for a vaccine to go back to the dentist, according to Sports and Leisure Research Group’s “Back to Normal Barometer” in July.

Whether your employees are eager or hesitant to return the dentist, teledentistry is the perfect tool for staying in touch, getting care and getting advice without going into the dentist’s office. The ADA has issued guidelines for teledentistry, specifying patient rights regarding this delivery of care.

What is Delta Dental doing with regards to teledentistry?

Delta Dental covers teledentistry appointments at the same benefit levels as diagnostic services to ensure that employees have coverage for their dental needs while staying safe from COVID-19. We’re encouraging dentists to use teledentistry for emergency diagnoses and non-emergency consultations.

What’s more, Delta Dental is looking into partnerships with teledentistry companies to improve the experience for both dentists and their patients.

How will teledentistry change the benefits industry?

Even as vaccines are distributed and control of the COVID-19 virus can be managed, your employees may expect teledentistry to be included as a standard part of any insurance plan (for example, Kaiser Permanente is launching plans with a heavy focus on telehealth). Employees may shy away from plans and dentists that can’t accommodate teledentistry. Those who live in remote areas may gain better access to professional care through teledentistry.

Dentists may incorporate teledentistry as a viable option in their scheduling so your employees can receive care when and how they need it.

Is teledentistry covered by Delta Dental plans?

Delta Dental covers teledentistry services as problem-focused exams. That means they fall into the category of diagnostic care, and are subject to the same rules and limitations (for example, diagnostic and preventive services are usually covered at no cost to the patient, but only a certain number of such appointments are covered each year).

With dental offices adapting to safety needs, you can encourage your employees to maintain their oral health. Teledentistry provides a vital option for them to manage their care through regular checkups and access to expert consultation.

What lasting effects will COVID-19 have on the workplace?

COVID-19 has brought about seismic shifts in most aspects of American life. Saying with certainty what the future will bring is impossible, but these four major trends are likely to shape how companies do business.

More remote working than pre-COVID

Working from home has become the new normal for 42% of the American workforce, according to a study from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.  Despite its challenges, an increasing number of workers have developed a preference for work-from-home arrangements.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 5% of working days were spent from home. That number currently stands at 40% and is expected to drop to 20% post-pandemic. The two most common responses to the question “[After COVID-19] how often would you like to have paid work days at home?” were “5 days a week and “never.”

For that reason, we anticipate that most employers will seek to find a balance where they allow their workers to work remotely for one-to-three days each week and come into the office for meetings and collaborative work on the other days.

More tools and benefits that facilitate remote work

With more people working remotely, employers will do more to provide the tools and resources that those workers need to be productive. A survey by the global professional services firm Aon has found that 42% of companies around the globe are either already helping their employees pay for home office expenses or are planning to do so. This includes hardware such as keyboards, monitors and headsets; software such as productivity and creative suites; and stipends, such as a monthly internet stipend or a one-time grant to purchase home office equipment.

Because the line between personal and work life can blur when working from home, benefits such as stipends for and wellness may become more common as well. There could even be a shift away from more in-office and commute-based perks. After all, company-provided lunches and public transit stipends aren’t very useful to someone who is working from home, but a monthly stipend for health and wellness costs may be. Such a stipend could be used on everything from traditional health needs (such as doctors’ appointments and prescriptions) to mental health needs (such as counseling and therapy) to overall wellness (such as yoga and guided meditation apps.)

More part-time and contract workers

In the initial stages of an economic downturn, part-time and contract workers can be hit hard, as they tend to have fewer protections than full-time workers. The early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown were no exception, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finding that part-time workers accounted for one-third of the job losses in the initial stages of the pandemic despite being 20% of the workforce. However, this trend has begun to reverse as businesses have reopened with varying levels of success.

Economic uncertainty may lead to more roles for part-time and contract workers. Companies may be hesitant to bring on full-time employees out of fear of another downturn, and an unstable economy will lead workers to an increased willingness to take contract and part-time positions with fewer benefits.

Changes in business plans and organizational complexity

COVID-19 has laid bare many of the assumptions that undergirded common business thinking. For the past few decades, efficiency has been king. Businesses have tightened their supply chains, focused on reinvesting profits or paying out dividends rather than keep cash on hand, and generally strived to operate as leanly as possible. The disruptions to global supply chains and daily life caused by COVID-19 have demonstrated the need for resiliency in both business plans and organizational structures.

In the future, businesses may keep more cash on hand in order to help them weather unforeseen economic shocks. Some of the money that would be invested into research and development or payouts for investors may instead go towards reinforcing supply chains and building up reserves of essential equipment and material. After all, businesses have a financial obligation to their stakeholders, and that obligation can’t be met if the business doesn’t have the resources it needs to stay afloat.

Plan on adapting

Both small businesses and large corporations will have to plan for a post-pandemic future. The biggest lesson from COVID-19 is not that there is any single best practice, but rather that unforeseen events can cause massive disruptions across entire economies. Employers should keep in mind that illnesses, natural disasters, economic downturns and more are all possible, and they should have plans in place to deal with a major disruption.

How dentists fight opioid addiction

There’s no shortage of issues confronting the country and the world today. Alongside COVID-19 and climate change, the opioid epidemic remains a major issue in the United States. Fortunately, there are steps that dentists can take to do their part to help combat addiction and abuse.

One of the simplest but most effective steps dentists can take involves prescribing alternatives to narcotics. Studies have found that a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be a more effective pain management tool than simply prescribing opioids.

As Dr. Daniel Croley, our Vice President of Network Development, says, “We ask that all dentists consider non-addictive pain management as their first choice. When narcotics are needed, only prescribe the lowest dosage and quantity needed to effectively manage your patients’ pain.”

In honor of National Recovery Month, Delta Dental has launched an informational campaign to encourage dentists to educate themselves and their staff about the opioid epidemic. This includes letters sent directly to dentists, educational blog posts on the topic and new opioid-focused material in webinars.

We also encourage dentists to:

  • Stay on top of the latest developments in pain management
  • Talk openly and honestly with patients about their history before prescribing opioids
  • Follow ADA guidelines, which include education about opioids, limits on prescriptions, and drug monitoring

In the words of Dr. Croley, “Together, we can stop the overprescription and abuse of opioids.”

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