UnitedHealthcare, SmileDirectClub partner on new dental benefit

UnitedHealthcare members may be smiling a little brighter. That’s because the insurer is teaming up with SmileDirectClub to offer a new benefit to help employees improve their oral health.

The companies are now offering more than 1.5 million UnitedHealthcare dental plan participants with orthodontic coverage the ability to purchase clear aligners via SmileDirectClub’s teledentistry and in-store service. Through the insurer, the aligners will potentially cost less than $1,000 out of pocket, the companies said Wednesday. SmileDirectClub typically charges consumers $1,850 or $2,170 before insurance and reimbursements, depending on the type of payment plan they select, according to the company website.

While SmileDirectClub does accept health insurance, this is the first time the company has offered its services in-network with an insurer, says Kyle Wailes, chief financial officer at SmileDirectClub. Typically, SmileDirectClub users would have to submit a claim to their insurance and then get reimbursed. With Unitedhealthcare the benefit will be paid directly, he says.

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“We are obsessed with our member experience,” Wailes says. “Prior to this partnership we accepted insurance but the member experience could be improved.”

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Tamar Friedland, a dental hygiene student at the New York City College of Technology (NYCCT), right, prepares a patient for an x-ray at the NYCCT training facility in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. The U.S. Department of Labor is scheduled to release initial jobless claims figures on October 22. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Tamar Friedland

Aside from the aesthetic aspect of dentistry, oral health can be an indicator of other health problems. For example, research suggests that gum disease could be linked to chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. When teeth are better aligned, it can also make it easier to brush and floss, and improve overall oral health.

Dental insurance is a relatively standard employee perk. Around 97% of employers surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management said they offered the benefit in 2018, up from 95% in 2014. This is a relatively small jump compared to vision insurance, another voluntary offering, which jumped seven percentage points over the same four year period, SHRM reports.

Offering voluntary benefits like health, hearing, vision and dental insurance via the same provider makes it easier to spot a potential health condition, says Tom Wiffler, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits. “We can better understand some clinical indicators that might not otherwise be found when the benefits are separately administered by a variety of companies,” Wiffler adds.

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Consumers can order an impression kit via the SmileDirectClub website or one of its more than 200 stores, called SmileShops. Once an employee receives the kit, they take an impression of their teeth and send it back to SmileDirectClub to prescribe a treatment plan. Members are also offered a retainer as part of the benefit.

SmileDirectClub has been taking steps to expand its service. The company recently launched hundreds of its SmileShops in CVS Pharmacy locations across the U.S. The service will also be offered as an in-network benefit for Aetna Dental members by summer of 2019.

Wailes says the company is also looking at further expanding the partnership with UnitedHealthcare. They are considering offering the benefit to members who don’t have orthodontic coverage, although the companies are still “ironing out the details,” he says.

“We think there is a health linkage between straighter teeth, a brighter smile and overall health,” Wiffler adds. “[This is] another way for us to provide this type of an offering to our members.”

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