Word of Mouth

Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

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Keep your Veteran employees shining with Delta Dental

This Veterans Day, Delta Dental gives thanks to the men and women who have served our country. Every day of every year, we’re committed to providing pathways for oral health care and more for U.S. Veterans. 

On Veterans Day and throughout the year, you can use the following resources from Delta Dental to let your employees know about the options that are available for Veterans, military retirees and their families.

Meeting Veterans’ oral health care needs

Did you know that your Veteran employees may be eligible for additional coverage?

The Delta Dental Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance Program (VADIP) provides dental insurance to more than 70,000 Veterans and their family members through an individual enrollment PPO program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Through VADIP, Delta Dental provides members with reduced premiums, three plan options and access to a nationwide network of dentists. Eligible beneficiaries include any veteran enrolled in VA health care or any individual enrolled in the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA).

Veterans whose VA coverage doesn’t include dental insurance can choose to be covered through VADIP, and even those who are eligible for VA care for some of their dental needs can still choose a Delta Dental VADIP plan for added dental insurance.

Delta Dental also seeks to meet the oral health care needs of military retirees through the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP), a PPO program that serves both federal employees and uniformed services retirees. Through FEDVIP, Delta Dental offers a choice between two plans: The Standard Plan provides care at a low premium, while the High Plan offers greater coverage with an unlimited in-network annual maximum. With FEDVIP plans, as with all VADIP plans, 100% of preventive care is covered when the member visits an in-network dentist.

Through a recent partnership with TriWest, Delta Dental also helps provide access to care in 14 states for an estimated 1.3 million Veterans and their family members through the Veteran Affairs Community Care Network. Through the program, eligible participants can receive treatment from providers in their own communities when the VA can’t provide the care they need.

If your Veteran employees have both employer-sponsored coverage and a plan designed for Veterans, coordination of benefits is simple. They’ll need to ask their dental office to include information about both plans with their claims — Delta Dental will handle the rest.

Resources for your Veteran employees

This Veterans Day, keep your employees informed about the options available for Veterans, military retirees and their families:

  • Post a Delta Dental FEDVIP fact sheet on your website.
  • Share a flyer about VADIP.
  • Remind your employees of enrollment periods:
    • Eligible employees can choose to enroll in FEDVIP during Federal Benefits Open Season, a four-week period that occurs this year from November 8 to December 13 for coverage starting January 1, 2022.
    • Those eligible for VADIP can opt in at any time, with coverage beginning the first of the following month after enrollment.
  • Tell eligible employees about the advantages of dual coverage. For more information on coordinating Veterans benefits with employer-sponsored coverage, visit Delta Dental’s FEDVIP FAQ or the VA’s FAQ.

Delta Dental’s ongoing commitment to Veterans

Delta Dental provides almost $13 million annually in support of community health clinics, federally qualified health centers and nonprofit dental clinics, all of which help serve Veterans. In addition, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation will give nearly $700,000 this year to support Veteran-serving organizations:

  • The American Red Cross— Armed Forces Emergency Services helps members of the military, Veterans and their families respond to the challenges of military service and civilian life afterwards.
  • The Dental Lifeline Network provides Veterans with free or discounted dental care.
  • The Joint Military Coalition, through a partnership with Delta Dental, was able to award 50 scholarships last year in the amount of $2,000 to Veterans and military members pursuing health and wellness training.

Delta Dental employees also participate in a number of volunteer and fundraising events throughout the year that support Veterans and active-duty service members:

  • Sneakers for Soldiers. Delta Dental employees run, bike and walk in an annual Veterans Day 5K to help send athletic shoes to men and women deployed in combat.
  • Carry the Load. Last Veterans Day, Marty Sheetz, Marine mom and Delta Dental Vice President of Customer Onboarding and Operations, helped organize two Carry the Load virtual 5ks with a total of 1,300 participants. The event encouraged participants to march or carry a symbolic load to represent sacrifices made by military, Veterans, first responders and their families.
  • National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. Delta Dental helps sponsor this annual five-day sports retreat near Aspen during which Veterans with injuries or disabilities are encouraged to challenge perceived limitations.

Whether through dental insurance, through support from our foundation or through committed volunteers, Delta Dental is always seeking to provide support and care for U.S. Veterans.

How oral health can help your employees in the fight against diabetes

One in three Americans will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime if current trends continue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chances are a significant number of your employees are — or will be — seriously affected by the disease.

The estimated annual cost of diabetes in the U.S. is more than $327 billion, meaning that almost one in four dollars spent on health care is used to care for people with diabetes. The estimated cost in lost productivity alone is $90 billion. And research shows that the higher health care spending associated with diabetes actually begins well before diagnosis.

Fortunately, early screening and detection can help delay or even prevent complications from diabetes. Evidence suggests that periodontal changes are the first clinical manifestation of the condition. Regular dental check-ups can play a crucial role in reducing the devastating toll of diabetes.

November is American Diabetes Month, so it’s the perfect time to raise awareness and share resources with your employees. It’s important to highlight the role of regular check-ups in early diagnosis, as well as the importance of oral health care in managing diabetes.

The role of oral health care in diabetes

Many of your employees with diabetes probably aren’t even aware that they have the disease. As many as 20% of people who have diabetes don’t know they do, according to the CDC, and most with prediabetes (84%) are unaware of their condition.

Diabetes causes serious problems throughout the body, and the mouth is no exception. Diabetes can increase the sugar in saliva, which feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities. It also reduces the body’s ability to fight oral infection. People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing gum disease, which can lead to pain, chewing difficulties and even tooth loss.

An oral exam can help detect diabetes because, like many other conditions, it often shows its first symptoms in the mouth.

Oral symptoms of diabetes to watch out for include:

  • Red, tender or swollen gums
  • A reduced or altered sense of taste
  • Bleeding gums
  • Dry mouth
  • A burning sensation in the mouth
  • Chronic bad breath or bad taste
  • Teeth that are loose or separating from each other
  • Oral infections that are slow to heal

Educate your employees on diabetes and oral health

Consider posting these early warning signs on your company’s website or social media, and advise employees experiencing symptoms to tell their dentist or physician. If symptoms are detected early enough, your employees can not only delay but possibly prevent progression.

Try some of these resources to help remind your employees of the importance of early diagnosis during American Diabetes Month:

Remind employees with diabetes to take time to check their mouths regularly for any problems and to visit the dentist for check-ups and cleaning.

Offer support to employees with diabetes

If you don’t already, consider offering SmileWay® Wellness Benefits as part of your employees’ dental package. Available for Delta Dental PPO™ plans, SmileWay Wellness Benefits are specifically for employees diagnosed with chronic health conditions such as diabetes. The benefits can provide these employees with additional annual cleanings and gum treatments that help treat oral issues associated with these conditions.

Eligible enrollees can receive these added benefits each calendar or contract year:

  • 100% coverage for one scaling and root planing procedure per quadrant (D4341 or D4342)
  • 100% coverage for four procedures from the following list, in any combination:
    • Prophylaxis (D1110 or D1120)
    • Periodontal maintenance procedure (D4910)
    • Scaling in the presence of moderate or severe gingival inflammation (D4346)

If your company offers SmileWay Wellness Benefits, remind employees they can easily opt in online by logging in and navigating to the optional benefits.

During American Diabetes Month, don’t forget to remind your employees about the central role oral health can play in preventing and managing diabetes.

COVID-19 by the numbers

The early days of the pandemic brought a tidal wave of changes to businesses and their employees. Navigating this new normal can be tricky, especially since the situation seems to be changing daily. Looking at the changes that occurred during the pandemic can help you understand what trends to anticipate and how to prepare your benefits offerings accordingly.

Let’s take a high-level look at how COVID-19 impacted workers, dentists and the dental insurance industry, as well as a deep dive into claims data, patient surveys and expert opinion.

The rise of teledentistry

During the early stages of the pandemic in the United States, dental offices were closed to physical appointments for weeks. This led to a massive surge in the popularity of teledentistry services. Synchronous appointments (those with live phone or video interaction between dentists and their patients) saw a 3,000% increase between 2019 and 2020, according to Delta Dental claims during that period. Asynchronous appointments (where patients took photos or videos that were sent to a dentist for later review) saw a 1,000% increase in the same period.

The use of teledentistry has declined as the pandemic has worn on and dentist offices have reopened, but 2021’s synchronous and asynchronous appointment numbers still remain six times and two times higher than 2019 levels, respectively.

More states also updated their teledentistry laws during the pandemic. Based on Delta Dental’s internal tracking, 14 states added teledentistry regulations to their laws or expanded existing regulations, including states such as Texas that previously hadn’t allowed the practice of teledentistry at all.

Most importantly, in a phone survey of teledentistry patients during the pandemic, patients expressed widespread satisfaction with their options. This aligns with pre-pandemic expectations about teledentistry. Of those surveyed before the pandemic, 78% expected to use teledentistry within the next five years. That same group anticipated that working people, children and people with disabilities would benefit the most from teledentistry.

Dentists also had praise for teledentistry, with over 80% of dentists identifying it as useful for improving access to oral care, increasing specialists’ access to rural and underserved communities and as a time-saving technique. 

Virtual visits may not replace in-person checkups, but they remain a valuable tool for employees to get expert opinions and feedback when they can’t make it into the dentist office or prefer a remote appointment.

Providing alternatives for employees who can’t make it to the dentist office

The beginning of the pandemic was marked by profound economic uncertainty as dental practices closed and people sheltered in place. General practitioner income dropped nearly 18% in 2020 compared to 2019.

To help keep dental practices open and seeing patients, Delta Dental offered network dentists loans and reimbursements for personal protective equipment (PPE) costs and made free teledentistry tools available to members.

Loans offered in partnership with Provide (formerly Lendeavor) allowed dentists to make purchases, stay on top of debts and pay staff to ensure that they could keep their doors open. Delta Dental also offered a supplemental reimbursement to help offset the costs of PPE and office cleanings, ensuring that dentist offices remained safe for staff and patients alike.

The pandemic saw the rollout of two teledentistry options for Delta Dental members:

  • Virtual Consult is a synchronous service where members can use a smart device to have a live video chat with a Delta Dental dentist.
  • Toothpic is an asynchronous service that allows members to take photos of problem areas and get an assessment from a Delta Dental dentist within 24 hours.

These teledentistry tools allowed Delta Dental members to get expert advice and feedback on their dental needs even when they couldn’t make it into the office.

How people used their benefits

The early stages of the pandemic saw a decline in the number of patients going to the dentist’s office. One of the main reasons for the decline was that the sharp economic shutdown led to over 20 million Americans losing their jobs (PDF) and their dental coverage as well.

This decline had a profound effect on the nation’s oral health. In 2019, the most common procedures according to Delta Dental claims data were either routine preventive care or evaluations for specific issues. This shifted in 2020, when some of the most common procedures were fillings and root planing. 

Instead of staying on top of their dental health with low-cost diagnostic and preventive care, people instead required more expensive procedures to address the effects of dental neglect.

In addition to the economic hardships COVID-19 brought to patients, COVID also increased mental and emotional strain. Since the pandemic began, the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders has risen to over 40% from about 10%.

These symptoms can manifest in jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Based on Delta Dental claims data, the number of patients requiring occlusal guards to prevent damage rose nearly 10% in the second half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Anxiety and depression can also lead to an unhealthy diet or substance abuse, which can in turn lead to oral health issues such as cavities. This may also help to explain the surge in fillings and scaling and root planing procedures in 2020.

Health and safety in the dental office

Even though COVID-19 is spread by exhaled aerosolized droplets, visits to the dentist’s office proved safer than visiting any other medical professional during the pandemic. 

Nearly 100% of dentist offices rapidly adopted enhanced infection control measures like pre-appointment screenings, in-office air purification and antiviral mouthwashes. 

Once vaccines became available, they saw widespread adoption amongst dentists, even before state and federal mandates. By the second quarter of 2021, over 90% of dentists had received at least one vaccination shot for COVID-19.

Patients also view dentists as valuable sources of information about their overall health in addition to their oral health. Two-thirds of dentists reported receiving questions from patients about the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the ADA (PDF).

Dentists rose to the occasion, with over 80% reported feeling prepared for these discussions and 95% believing it was important to have such discussions with patients. For employees who may be hesitant to get the COVID vaccine, speaking with trusted health professionals like dentists may help persuade them of the efficacy of getting vaccinated.

What did we learn from COVID-19?

Here are three key takeaways for employees and your business as you look to the future.

  • Encourage employees to use their benefits even during times of crisis. During the early stages of the pandemic, going to the dentist for a teeth cleaning was likely far from most people’s minds. Letting oral health slide in the short term can lead to costly and painful issues in the long term. Teledentistry tools can help employees get expert evaluation, even when they can’t make it into the dental office.
  • Let employees know what resources are available to them. Studies have shown that most people don’t really understand how insurance works. Your help as an insurance expert can go a long way towards letting employees know what kind of coverage and resources are available to them. There are plenty of benefits materials available for you to download and share with employees. Additionally, initiatives like Smile On can help employees maintain their coverage even in the face of economic uncertainty.
  • Consider benefits as part of your employees’ total wellness. Dental benefits are essential for helping employees maintain their overall health and wellness. Many ailments have symptoms that manifest in the mouth, including stress and anxiety. Valuable employee benefits can also help ease employees’ stress about staying healthy and paying for care. When your employees know how to make the most of those benefits, they’re more likely to catch and treat minor issues before they become major ones.

3 ways to rethink your employee benefits communication strategy

During your open enrollment period, you probably receive a flood of questions from your employees about their health benefits. But questions and confusion about benefits don’t begin and end with open enrollment. And for most companies, confusion about benefits is a major problem.

  • Only 39% of employees fully understood their company health insurance policies, according to a recent survey.
  • Nearly 20% of employees said they weren’t sure they understood the benefits they signed up for.
  • Almost half weren’t sure what their annual health coverage costs were.

The same survey found that this confusion about benefits can overwhelm employees, to the point that they often give up trying to understand them.

  • Nearly 20% of surveyed employees said they didn’t do any research before choosing their health benefits.
  • More than 90% of employees said they simply sign up for the same benefits year after year.

As a result, your employees may be spending too much to over-insure themselves, or conversely might be compromising their health by passing on important benefits to try to cut costs.

This confusion can be bad for your company’s bottom line as well, wasting available benefits and contributing to rising health care costs.

With is in mind, it might be time to rethink your benefits communication game.

Benefits communication: It’s not just for open enrollment anymore

Certainly, reaching out to employees about their benefits during open enrollment is always a good idea. But remember that your employees probably have questions and concerns about benefits throughout the year, and particularly when they have to use them. 

Look for opportunities to educate employees while benefits are on their mind.

  • At the beginning of the calendar or plan year, you can remind employees about new benefits available to them or that their new deductibles and maximums have reset
  • At the end of the calendar or plan year, you can encourage them to use their benefits before their deductibles and maximums reset
  • During the summer, you can suggest that employees with children take their kids to the dentist before they return to school
  • When employees move, or their office moves to a new area, you can offer them tips on how to find a nearby in-network dentist
  • When they experience a qualifying life event, such as getting married or having a baby, you can explain how to add a dependent to their dental plans

Help your employees help themselves

A single 20-something employee with a pet iguana is going to have very different health care needs than a married 50-year-old with a large family. What they might have in common, though, is their understanding of health care plans and their lingo — next to none.

So rather than simply mailing out printed plan guides that most employees don’t read anyway, find resources that target your employees and their unique dental plan needs to help them choose a plan that right for them.

  • For example, Delta Dental offers answers to frequently asked questions, which includes information about dental plans, such as the difference between PPO and DHMO-type plans, explanations of networks and orthodontic benefits and many other topics.
  • Delta Dental also offers helpful videos that explain Delta Dental plans, networks and more.

And be as transparent as possible with costs. If you haven’t already, share specifically how much employees will pay when they enroll in different plans.

Make benefits a two-way street

As you strive to better educate employees about their benefits, don’t miss the opportunity to have them educate you as well. Given the chance, employees might provide you with valuable information about what they want — and don’t want — in their benefits. Give employees multiple forums to provide you with feedback. A few possibilities include:

  • Q&A sessions
  • Polls
  • Surveys

The questions and comments you receive can help you tailor your benefits communication strategies by uncovering new issues, such questions about virtual dental care options.

Remember, benefits communication is about more than open enrollment. Building a strong communications strategy is important for the health of both your employees and your company. By creating effective, personalized and tech-friendly communications, you’ll potentially save money and time, and ensure that your employees get the benefits they want and need.

Orthodontics are becoming a more important benefit for employees

Brace yourself — National Orthodontic Health Month is here! When it comes to choosing dental benefits to attract and maintain top-tier talent, orthodontic coverage is essential. Here’s a deeper dive into orthodontic coverage and the value it brings to you and your employees.

More people are interested in braces

Braces do more than give people a pretty smile. By ensuring proper alignment of the teeth, orthodontics can make it easier to bite, chew and speak. Misaligned teeth are also harder to clean and can wear in unusual ways. Minor untreated issues can lead to more serious problems further down the road, and that can mean increased utilization costs for your business. Far from being a luxury, orthodontic treatment can be essential to proper dental health.

When you imagine your average person with braces, you probably picture a teenager whose parents want them to have a beautiful smile. While most of the over 4 million people in the United States who are currently undergoing orthodontic treatment are teens, over 25% of current patients are adults, and these numbers are expected to grow. The number of adults seeing orthodontists is at an all-time high, according to the American Association of Orthodontists, and that means the pool of prospective ortho patients is wider than it’s ever been. Even childless adults may be interested in these benefits, such as the young professionals in the job market.

Employees expect to see dental insurance among their benefits, and orthodontic coverage can help your plans stand out from competitors. Fortunately, Delta Dental plans offer such coverage at affordable price points.

What kind of coverage does Delta Dental offer?

Without insurance, prospective orthodontic patients can expect to pay between $3,000 and 6,000 dollars depending on their age. Delta Dental plans can help cut these costs in half. That’s why Delta Dental’s been recognized as the best overall dental insurance for braces in 2021.

Orthodontic coverage is available under both Delta Dental PPO™ and DeltaCare® USA:

  • Delta Dental PPO plans vary by group and may include orthodontic coverage. You can choose to limit orthodontic coverage to children under 19 or cover orthodontics for both children and adults. Coverage is usually subject to a lifetime orthodontic maximum per person.
  • All DeltaCare USA plans cover orthodontics at set copayments, with no maximums or deductibles.

While specifics vary depending on your plan, coverage usually includes:

  • Pre-orthodontic treatment visits
  • Exam and start-up records
  • X‑rays
  • Orthodontist-recommended tooth extractions
  • Comprehensive orthodontic treatment
  • Post-treatment records
  • Orthodontic takeover for treatment that’s already in progress

Plans generally don’t cover the following:

  • Orthodontic treatment for children delivered in two phases
  • Appliances to correct harmful habits (like thumb-sucking)
  • Jaw surgery to facilitate orthodontic treatment
  • Treatment to prepare for other non-covered surgical procedures

Alternative appliances like Invisalign, mail-order appliances and teleorthodontistry generally aren’t, but Delta Dental usually still covers some of the orthodontic treatment costs, such as x‑rays and exams.

Want to help your employees understand their out-of-pocket costs? For PPO plans, encourage your employees to ask their orthodontist for a pre-treatment estimate. DeltaCare USA members can check their plan booklet for their copayments.

From children to adults, the interest in orthodontics is only growing, especially among adults. You won’t want to miss out on delivering benefits that employees love — and expect. Consider adding orthodontic coverage to your plan — or expanding the orthodontic coverage you currently offer.

With Delta Dental’s plans, your employees can find the orthodontic coverage they’re looking for at a price point they can afford, and that’s a great reason to smile.

Tips for supporting your blind and low-vision employees

October is Blindness Awareness Month and it’s the perfect time to reevaluate some of your accessibility practices. Approximately 12 million Americans over 40 are visually impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 1 million are blind and 2 million have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of low-vision and blindness among adults over 50.

Not all visual impairments are obvious, so it’s important to offer options to your employees.

What you can do to help employees

Accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean committing to big digital and office modifications. Being mindful of blind and low-vision employees and their needs can create a better office experience for everyone involved. A little bit of awareness goes a long way in creating a safer and more dignified workspace.

  • Communicate important information electronically. While sending paper mail may be standard for some communications, visually impaired or blind employees may have trouble finding the information enclosed. Sending a screen reader–friendly email, text message or audio file may be a better option. Talk to your employees about their preferences. Large type may be suitable for some people with low vision.
  • Equip your office. Assistive technology in the office creates a more inclusive workspace and gives low-vision and blind employees the tools they need to succeed. Scanners, magnifiers, screen readers and Braille displays are all helpful resources.
  • Make your company’s website and intranet accessible. Even the simplest webpages can have coding that’s difficult for screen readers. Make your webpages easier to use for blind and low-vision employees by using alt-text for images, being thoughtful with colors and choosing descriptive phrases for linking.
  • Don’t assume you can pet an employee’s guide dog. Tempting as it may be, guide dogs have an important job to do. If an employee relies on a guide dog, understand that by petting it or offering treats, you may be distracting it from helping its owner. Always ask the owner before approaching their guide dog.

Resources from Delta Dental

Studies have linked periodontal disease to retinal degeneration and certain oral bacteria to glaucoma. For those with good to moderate vision, seeing their dentist regularly can help protect their mouth and their sight. When your employees need a little extra help with their benefits, Delta Dental is here to help.

  • Document translation. Written materials, such as plan information, can be translated to Braille or audio formats for blind and low-vision patients.
  • Customer service. For any questions about their coverage, members can simply call 866–530-9675 and speak to a customer service representative. Contact customer service to request material translations.

All people deserve equal care and dignity when receiving it. For more resources, visit the Perkins School for the Blind’s workplace accommodation tips.

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