Four reasons to include vision and dental wellness in group plans
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With all the focus on major medical group benefits and the rising cost of healthcare in the group setting, many companies are overlooking a simple and cost-effective way to improve preventive care, early dedication, and workforce wellness measures within their plan designs: vision and dental exams.
When most people think of vision benefits they only think of glasses or contacts. With dental (which most people don’t like to think about), while they may think about regular cleanings, the majority focus on cavities, crowns, root canals, and braces. The “group wellness” impact of vision and dental exams is commonly overlooked or not given the weight or credence these exams deserve.
Here are four reasons to include vision and dental coverage in group plan designs:
1. Early Detection of Potentially Chronic Health Conditions
In addition to evaluating the health of your eyes, an eye exam can also uncover early signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, high cholesterol, Myasthenia Gravis, thyroid disease, and many other diseases. Similarly, a general systemic health assessment is performed during a dental oral exam and many diseases have early manifestations in the oral tissues. Diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, blood disorders, some cancers, many infectious disease and gastric-intestinal disorders all show early signs in the mouth.
2. Assessment of Medication Reactions and Interactions
Some medications, even over-the-counter (OTC) medications, can affect vision and the health of the eye. They may even interfere with the eye drops the doctor may use during the exam. Certain eye drops should not be used if the patient has asthma, heart problems, or other conditions. Many commonly used prescription and non-prescription drugs have a drying effect on the mouth. Mouth dryness (xerostomia) is directly correlated with increased tooth decay and gum disease. Dentists can help assess the oral effects of the drugs and make recommendations for alternative medications or measures to take to counteract the harmful effects of necessary medications.
3. Women’s Health – Pre-Pregnancy and Osteoporosis Risk
In terms of women’s health, dental exams alone are a key component of preventive care. Clinical evidence shows that poor oral hygiene and poor dental health during pregnancy can adversely affect the health of the newborn. Oral bacteria, inflammation and hormonal changes are a powerful combination that can breach the placenta and reach the fetus. Women with uncontrolled gum disease have a higher rate of pre-term labor. Additionally, both osteoporosis and gum disease share a number of risk factors. Accelerated bone loss around teeth may be due to systemic factors associated with osteoporosis. Many drugs used to treat osteoporosis can lead to jawbone degeneration if dental infections or broken teeth are present.
4. Early detection means reduced healthcare costs
Including vision and dental plan options, whether employer paid or voluntary, and encouraging employee participation through education and communication, improves the wellness of the group and reduces healthcare costs. Regular vision and dental examinations can provide early signs of someone’s predisposition to certain conditions and the impact that certain medications and lifestyle are having on overall health now and/or will have in the future. Monitoring and maintenance is far less of a healthcare expense than allowing treatable ailments (i.e. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-cancerous cells, etc.) to go undetected without simple and inexpensive vision and dental exams.
Carriers recognize the connections between vision and dental health and overall heath. Some major medical health plans include vision and dental benefits inclusive of their plan designs, or they may offer rate discounts when multiple lines of coverage (i.e. vision and dental) are included with their major medical plans. Getting the advice and guidance of a licensed broker enables employers to determine the best approach.
DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, and based on particular situations, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice, financial advice and/or the advice of a licensed insurance or certified human resource professional.
© Connelly, Carlisle, Fields & Nichols 2012