Analysis: Dental cover - addressing employee confusion over costs

What can cash plan and dental benefits providers do to help?

With hundreds of thousands of patients believed to be given inaccurate prices by their dentist each year, Nicola Sullivan asks what cash plan and dental benefits providers are doing to help

Widespread confusion over the cost of dental care in the UK is starting to impact the ways in which dental insurance products are offered to the corporate market. 

The Office of Fair Trading’s survey Dentistry – an OFT market study, published in May, shows that around 500,000 patients each year could be given inaccurate information by their dentist regarding their entitlement to receive certain dental treatments on the NHS, and are therefore unnecessarily forking out for more private treatment. It also found that 56% of dental practices that provide some private dental services do not display private fee information at reception, and 82% of patients who were charged for dental treatment recently did not receive a written treatment plan.   

Andrew Bower, managing director of National Dental Plan, says that it is difficult for consumers and employees to prepare for the cost of private dental care. Unlike NHS treatments, which are split into three cost bands, private care is typically paid for on a per treatment basis.

He says: “Because private dental charges are not regulated they can vary quite widely. It is possible to have two dental practices in London charging significantly different prices. And because the patient is paying per treatment typically private dental charges are much higher.”

Dissatisfaction and confusion over the cost of dental treatment in the UK means there is more impetus on intermediaries and brokers to negotiate products for employers that offer competitive levels of cover and are easily understood. One advantage of cash plans and dental plans, which are the most common way of offering dental cover in the workplace, is that they have fixed monthly premiums, meaning all employees pay the same rate irrespective of their dental health. Typically cash plans reimburse the cost of treatment up to a capped annual amount. Meanwhile it is typical for pure dental plans to fully fund NHS treatment, but place caps on the cost of private treatment.

A NEW APPROACH?

Some providers, however, are changing the ways in which they offer their products to ensure they remain relevant to employees' needs. The high and sometimes unpredictable cost of dentistry is continuing to influence the design and development of products. As part of efforts to tackle the issue of affordability Cigna UK HealthCare Benefits recently enhanced levels three and four of its Dentacare plan, so that members are entitled to a full and uncapped refund on private dental treatment (although there are some limitations around the treatment of gum disease, as well as the number of examinations and scale and polishes).  It has teamed up with Munroe Sutton, which is recruiting dentists to take part in the new arrangement, which was launched in October.

Michelle Rae, product manager, Cigna UK HealthCare Benefits, says: “We do look at our treatment limits and dental plan [in light of] what dentists are actually charging. We know that customers have concerns that their plan may not cover the full amount – a veneer might cost £600, but the plan limit might be £400.”

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