Dental benefits enrollment declined by 5.7% in 2009, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. It’s the first drop in dental enrollment since 1994, the year NADP started to track enrollment.

In the report "2010 Dental Benefits Enrollment Report," which is issued by NADP and Delta Dental Plans Association, researchers found that 166 million Americans (54%) were covered by some form of dental benefit through group or individual plans in 2009.

The 5.7% dip reflects about 10 million fewer Americans with dental coverage, compared to 2008 figures. Still, enrollment from 2006 through 2008 increased in line with U.S. population growth, remaining steady at 57%, according to the research, which is based on data from 88 employers.

"While total enrollment significantly declined in 2009, the number of employer groups offering dental benefits remained consistent, compared to the previous year based on data submitted for the report and other industry studies by LIMRA and NADP," says Evelyn F. Ireland, executive director of NADP.

The recession and a stalled economy contributed, in part, to decrease enrollment. "The reduction in subscribers in some employer groups in 2009 most likely reflects family financial constraints and layoffs as Delta Dental’s data indicates that dental benefits remain an important part of employer benefits programs, despite a challenging economy," says Kim Volk, president and CEO of DDPA.

Other key findings from the report include:

• The trend toward dental PPO (DPPO) products continues among commercial products with 69% of all commercial dental benefits reported as DPPO. Indemnity and dental HMO (DHMO) products continue to decline in market share while discount products maintained market share.

• Dental benefit premiums and fees are paid at least in part by most enrollees. While discount plans report 99% of all enrollees paying at least part of the fee, insured products range from 85% of DPPO enrollees paying a portion of premium to 61% of dental indemnity enrollees paying for a portion of premium.

• Only 1% of the population with dental insurance products, i.e. DHMO, DPPO or dental indemnity, has its benefits through individual policies. Roughly 9% of dental discount products are sold as individual policies.

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