Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

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Dental care for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees

Happy National Deaf History Month! If you haven’t heard of this awareness month, it runs from March 13 to April 15. Nearly 15% of adult Americans report trouble hearing, so you likely have some employees among your staff with hearing issues. They may not even be aware of it!

Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals face some unique challenges when it comes to getting dental care. Even making an appointment can be difficult. Fortunately, there are solutions available to ensure that no problem is insurmountable. Here are some of the common issues that deaf and hard of hearing employees may encounter and what tools are available to help solve them.

Challenges and considerations

The challenges that employees who are hard of hearing face when it comes to getting quality dental care can begin before they ever set foot in the office.

  • Employees may have difficulty just making appointments. Not every office will have someone fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) on staff, but if an office isn’t set up to schedule appointments by text or email, it can be impossible for the hard-of-hearing to even step foot inside.
  • Dentists that don’t speak clearly, slowly and while looking at employees make it hard to read lips. The deaf and hard-of-hearing may rely more on lip-reading than others. Seeing a dentist who is in a hurry or who talks while moving all about the practice can make it more difficult for the deaf and hard-of-hearing to follow what’s being said. To make things even harder, the fact that everyone is wearing masks because of COVID-19 only compounds this issue.
  • Employees may not even realize that they’re hard-of-hearing. Because most everyone loses some of their hearing as they get older, the change can happen so gradually that the employee isn’t even aware of it. Younger employees can also develop hearing loss if they work in a loud environment or regularly attend loud events without proper hearing protection. For this reason, an attentive dentist who notices when their patients seem to have difficulty hearing them or following a conversation can be indispensable.

Solutions and tools

Whether employees have recently become hard of hearing or have been deaf since birth, there are two major tools available to help them.

  • The Language Assistance Program (LAP). The LAP is a free service that Delta Dental members can use to get professional interpretive services for their non-English needs. This includes phone assistance, written materials and more, including an in-person translator when given 72 hours’ notice. Most importantly for employees who are deaf, this means that they can have an interpreter fluent in ASL accompany them to their dental visits!
  • The Find a Dentist search tool. The Find a Dentist search tool is perfect for employees looking to find an in-network dentist that fits their specific needs. Employees can search by distance and specialty, but they can also search for dentists by the languages their offices support, such as ASL, and available accessibility features.

More than 35 million people in the United States report having trouble hearing, whether they suffer from mild hearing loss or are completely deaf. Fortunately, valuable services like the Language Assistance Program and thoughtful features like the Find a Dentist search tool make it easier for hard-of-hearing employees to get their dental needs taken care of.

SmileWay Wellness Benefits help employees stay healthy

More people are becoming aware of the way that health issues can manifest in the mouth and oral health issues can exacerbate other medical conditions. With serious issues like heart disease being responsible for so many deaths in the U.S., your employees may be interested in learning how good dental health can improve their overall health. If they have medical conditions that affect their oral health, SmileWay® Wellness Benefits may help meet their needs.

Who’s eligible for SmileWay Wellness Benefits?

Not everyone is eligible for SmileWay Wellness benefits. To claim these benefits, your employees must:

  • Have a Delta Dental PPO™ plan
  • Belong to a group that offers SmileWay Wellness Benefits
  • Have chosen to opt in to the program

If your employees have been diagnosed with any of the following, then they are eligible for expanded coverage:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stroke

What are the benefits?

If your plan includes SmileWay Wellness Benefits, then employees are eligible for these added benefits each calendar or contract year:

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

If your employees have medical issues that necessitate extra dental care, consider adding SmileWay Wellness Benefits to your coverage and letting them know. These benefits can help keep your employees both smiling and healthy, and healthy workers are a win-win for your company!

How COVID-19 is changing benefits in 2021

The global pandemic has had a profound impact on the way corporations attract, develop and maintain their human capital, and this includes changes to benefits packages. A June 2020 survey by Mercer found that some of the most common benefits changes that companies were considering in response to the pandemic included:

  • Expanding virtual health and telemedicine programs
  • Enhancing mental health support (including employee assistance programs)
  • Adding or expanding voluntary benefits

Have those predictions panned out? The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) conducted a survey of U.S. employers to determine how the way businesses think about offering benefits has changed because of COVID-19. This study has found a move towards telemedicine, mental health benefits, flexibility around leave and greater consideration given to cost-saving measures. 

Fewer in-office visits means more telemedicine coverage

From visiting the dentist to an unexpected trip to the emergency room, in-office visits of all kinds are down from 2019 rates. That doesn’t mean that people are necessarily receiving less care, though. According to the IFEBP survey, nearly nine out of 10 employers reported seeing an increase in the number of telehealth claims filed in 2020. Dental offices are safe to visit, but for employees who are trying to socially distance (or simply have difficulty fitting a trip to the dentist into their schedule), Delta Dental offers multiple virtual dentistry solutions.

Stress and isolation lead to a greater emphasis on mental health benefits

Mental health claims saw a sharp rise in 2020. As employees cope with the stress and isolation that living with the realities of COVID-19 can cause, adding or enhancing access to mental health care is a cost-saving move. The effects of stress, depression and anxiety may not be as visible as with other issues, but they are no less real. They can lead to missed work and physical health issues, and so they’re equally important to cover with mental health benefits or employee assistance programs that offer support to employees.

More flexibility in leave is required as life throws curveballs at everyone

It’s important to be compassionate and flexible when it comes to your employees’ physical and emotional needs. Parents and other caregivers have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic and may need additional support as they try to juggle their work and home lives. Emergency leave for child or elder care, flexible use of paid and unpaid leave and offering carryover options for workers who can’t use their current vacation days are becoming more common.

Voluntary plans are becoming more popular to help keep costs low

Finally, consider that it may be in your organization’s best interests to change the kind of benefits offered. Voluntary plans are a great way to ensure that those who want dental coverage can keep it, even if cost-saving measures become necessary. The Smile On program is also available to provide dental coverage to those who are transitioning out of the workforce.

Communication is key

No matter how your benefits may change in response to the pandemic, being transparent and honest with your employees is essential. By alerting employees to benefits changes, you can ensure that they won’t be caught by an unpleasant surprise. Additionally, letting your employees know when new benefits are available and how to make the most of them can help keep them happier and healthier.

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.

Dental implants are coming to DeltaCare USA

A new kind of DeltaCare® USA plan is available to you in 2021. Effective January 1, 2021, DeltaCare USA i‑series plans will be available with comprehensive coverage for dental implants. Once i‑series plan rollouts are complete (there will be nine in total), they will be available in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

These plans are designed to address the growing demand for more affordable access to dental implants. Coverage for dental implants is a valuable benefit that employees ask for, so offering an i‑series plan makes dental insurance a more compelling choice for more employees. You’ll be able to offer a plan that fits more budgets than ever before but still offers cost savings, more choices in treatment options and coverage for procedures like teeth whitening.

These new plans will expand the coverage available to employees looking for more affordable dental insurance. For more information, please contact your account manager.

Why dental insurance matters for employees

Open enrollment season is here, and that means it’s time for employees to review their benefits and choose their insurance plans for next year. Most people probably think of medical insurance first, but your employees shouldn’t forget about dental insurance, either.

The value of dental insurance may not be immediately obvious to your employees, but dental insurance is always an important part of any benefits package. Any dental plan that emphasizes diagnostic and preventive care can go a long way towards keeping employees happy and healthy, and additional coverage can make a big difference when major services are required.

Here are three ways you can show them how having dental insurance helps protect employees’ health, happiness and pocketbooks.

1. It keeps employees healthy, and that matters during a pandemic.

People who have dental insurance are more likely to go to the dentist than those without coverage. One of the most valuable benefits of dental insurance is having access to regular diagnostic and preventive care in the form of x‑rays and examinations. In addition to keeping employees’ smiles bright and healthy, these services can also help identify major diseases that have oral symptoms, such as diabetes and kidney disease.

Additionally, poor oral health can have negative effects on overall health. Poor oral health is linked to conditions like heart disease and pneumonia. It’s worth considering that many pre-existing conditions can be risk factors for COVID-19, so staying on top of oral health is especially important for preventing new issues and managing existing ones.

2. It helps keep employees’ morale up, and that means a lot when people are worried about the future.

Americans are feeling pessimistic about the future, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. It makes sense that more people would feel anxious and concerned when COVID-19 is still making news and the economy remain unsteady: People are worried about their personal and financial well-being.

The sense of safety and security that comes from having insurance can help alleviate some of these fears. Over 90% of employees rate health care benefits as important. According to Milbank Quarterly, employees want insurance “in order to protect against the catastrophic costs of serious illness and to ensure access to medical care” for themselves and their families. The coverage that comes from an employer, especially if it comes at a discounted group rate, can help employees to feel at easy during the fear and uncertainty of our present time.

3. It saves your employees money, and that’s always important.

One of the biggest financial advantages of having dental coverage is that it helps to cover the cost of major dental care. People without insurance tend to experience greater variability in dental costs than those with insurance. Major procedures like root canals and crowns are usually more expensive than simpler ones like cleanings and fillings, but Delta Dental helps to keep out-of-pocket costs down.

Having dental insurance means employees will enjoy increased savings in the form of:

  • Diagnostic and preventive care covered at low or no cost
  • Lower costs for expensive procedures (since the cost is shared by the plan)
  • Discounted fees at in-network dentists

Going to dentists within the Delta Dental network also means that your employees will have safeguards and guarantees in place to ensure that they’re getting both great value and great service. When your employees need major care or have issues with their dentists, a Delta Dental plan can mean the difference between simple predictable costs and unpleasant surprise bills.

This open enrollment season, don’t forget to show your employees how dental insurance is an important part of their benefits package. Help employees make decisions that will let them save money and stay healthy.

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