Dental benefits - Can they actually save employers money?

With most employers looking to cut at least some of their benefits spend, David Sawers discovers that dental should be one of the core perks that businesses keep in place

Many an intermediary will have endured a difficult conversation with corporate clients last year, with employers increasingly questioning the actual value to them of paying for – or subsidising – benefits for their staff.

After all, it is no secret that finance directors and procurement departments are playing a greater role in deciding the type of benefits their company gives to employees. It would be easy to say that with most employers looking to trim at least some of their benefits spend, those – such as dental cover – that do not appear to have an immediate return on investment element to them could be the first to go.

The problem appears to be a lack of evidence or data to support the theory that dental benefits can in fact save employers’ money, according to Brian Hall, sales & marketing director of Birmingham-based cash plan provider BHSF.

Nonetheless, BHSF, like other cash plan providers, offers dental reimbursement as a core part of its proposition. Most providers of cash plans or standalone dental plans suggest that the biggest gain for employers in providing subsidised or free dental benefits is the likely boost in productivity and morale.

Jill Davies, chief executive of Westfield Health, says: “It would be difficult to provide evidence which proves that subsidising employee dental benefits actually saves companies money. However, it is safe to assume that in a recession, an employer offering dental benefits to their staff will help to boost morale and productivity, and in turn reduce absence.”

However, Jack Briggs sales & marketing director – intermediary of cash plan and private medical insurance (PMI) provider Simplyhealth, believes that there is hard evidence that intermediaries can show to clients to prove that dental benefits can in fact save them money.

Research carried out for Simplyhealth last year shows that companies which do supply dental benefits to employees report savings in time away from work, in addition to productivity gains from improved staff morale. In fact, around half (49%) of companies that supply dental benefits to staff say they have noticed a reduction in time off due to dental problems since they began doing so.

Lara Rendall, a spokesman for cash plan provider Health Shield agrees. She says that by providing comprehensive dental cover, employers encourage staff to look after their teeth and go for regular check ups rather than wait for something to go wrong and having to take unexpected time-off, consequently helping to reduce absenteeism.

“It also means that any worries about how they are going to cover the cost of a trip to the dentist, causing undue stress and anxiety, are unnecessary,” she says.

The research carried out for Simplyhealth also shows that around half (48%) of employers that provide dental benefits for their staff say that doing so makes it easier for them to control time off for dental appointments. After all, a dental appointment – even for a simple check-up – can mean a half or a full day away from the workplace. That is valuable man hours that most companies can ill afford to lose, especially in the current economic climate.

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