When I was a consultant and would present a client with a higher than expected medical renewal - which unfortunately was more the norm than not - one of the first things an employer would do was to consider lowering, or forgoing altogether, its contribution to employees' dental benefits.

The rationale in doing this was to save employer contribution dollars on dental and be able to use those toward the increase in medical costs, keeping the increase to employees' medical contributions at a lower rate.

There are a lot of consultants who will suggest you do this - but I was not one of them. I always cautioned employers against this tactic because this strategy could end up having a negative impact on an employer's medical claims and, in turn, end up raising medical costs more in the future.


Correlation between dental and medical health

Studies have shown that there is a correlation between dental health and medical health.

An oral infection such as a cavity, tooth decay or gum disease can put you at risk for other problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and Alzheimer's disease. Gum disease in pregnant women has even been linked to lower birth weights and premature births.

Now, consider the impact of changing your dental plan from one with a decent employer contribution to one with a very low employer contribution, or even no employer contribution at all. Doing this means you're increasing the cost for the employee to have dental coverage. And, at the same time, the employee's medical contributions are also likely to increase even with the extra money you pick up by not contributing to the dental plan.

As employees look at their benefit options, and see the increased cost of their dental coverage alongside the increased cost in their medical coverage, many are likely to drop dental coverage altogether in order to have less contributions coming out of their paychecks.

These employees may then forgo dental care altogether (now that they don't have dental coverage), putting them at risk for more serious medical conditions.

Consider the cost impact a heart attack or premature birth claim will have to your plan - much higher than the contribution you would have paid toward that employee's dental coverage.

Plus, the financial effect of that claim on your next medical renewal will be much higher than simply keeping your dental plan contributions in place.

Benefit budgets everywhere are stretched thin by increases in medical costs, and employers are looking to lower costs. However, rather than skimp on your dental plan, consider using it as a wellness tool to encourage employees to have better oral health, which in turn will lead to better overall health.

Consider even enhancing your contribution to the dental plan to encourage more employees to enroll in the coverage and get regular dental checkups. If nothing else, include 100% preventive care coverage on your dental plan.

In addition, if you have a wellness plan, consider adding an incentive to encourage employees to get routine dental preventive care twice a year.

Contributing Editor Christy Yaccarino, GBA, EHBA, HIPAAA, is a benefits manager for Ambrose Employer Group in New York City. She can be reached at christy.yaccarino@ambrosegroup.com.

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