What is the current climate of employer and employee relationships with dental and health insurance?

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What is the current climate of employer and employee relationships with dental and health insurance?

In the current employee-employer-broker relationship, employees want flexible, customizable coverage packages that include new options like wellness programs and financial planning. Employers need brokers' assistance to navigate the challenges of putting these packages together and to reduce costs and red tape in a sometimes-confusing healthcare landscape. Brokers have to keep up with employers' demands and stay on top of the benefits that they can offer to employers. Below you'll find my rundown of each group's expectations and needs, with information on both general health benefits and dental coverage specifically.

OVERVIEW

Many of the trends I found are general to the employee benefits and health coverage landscape -- the fastest-growing trends are in nontraditional benefits like health and wellness programs and financial preparation assistance. I did find a few trends in employees' expectations for dental plans and in the dental brokers space -- those trends are highlighted below, along with an outline of the broader trends in the employee-employer-broker relationship landscape.

EMPLOYEES

In terms of benefits generally, employees want "customized offerings they can actually use." More and more, those offerings are expected to include programs like health and wellness incentives and financial preparation assistance where possible. Employees want benefits solutions that they can tailor to their needs, enroll in simply and quickly, and learn about without too much barrier to entry.

When it comes to dental insurance (and other health coverage), employees want plans that cover their dependents with out-of-pocket and deductible costs as low as possible. Employees are growing more willing to price shop for dental coverage as well. Dental coverage is increasingly a priority -- in one survey, 82% of employees said that dental coverage is very important, and over half said that dental coverage from their employer is a "must-have." However, with that importance comes greater employee expectations on employers -- 54% of employees wanted their employers to provide information on the local dentists that accept their insurance, and 34% wanted recommendations of the best dentists in the area.

EMPLOYERS

For their part, employers have to deal with that growing set of employee expectations while navigating growing healthcare costs and a changing workforce. Employers have many more options to choose from in constructing a benefits package, including health and wellness programs and financial planning. In MetLife's survey, just under half of employers said they feel responsible for their employees' financial well-being, and 61% feel responsible for their health and physical well-being. To that end, employers have new health coverage options to choose from, like telemedicine and other technological options, and some are moving away from the current model of open enrollment and toward multi-year health packages. Larger employers are also considering their options and may be looking to move toward community-based models to save costs. Dental coverage is a priority for most employers, since it's in such high demand from employees.

All of these factors increased employers' level of reliance on brokers. MetLife found that 81% of employers reported relying on a broker to navigate their most recent benefits renewal. Employers also expressed increased interest in every area of broker expertise, with the biggest increases coming in creating global benefits packages (11% more than the previous year), recommending non-traditional benefits options and employee physical and financial well-being programs, and creating and distributing educational information to bring employees up to speed on the available benefits and how to use them (all increased 10% from the previous survey). Employers also need brokers to help find lower-cost options, navigate employee open enrollment and find the tech options that work best for them. That adds up to a more demanding employer-broker relationship -- more and more, employers expect to be able to reach brokers through social media and other means.

BROKERS

Brokers are feeling the pressure of those relationship demands -- 83% of brokers in one survey reported employers relying on them to help lower costs. They also report being asked to help with compliance (73% of brokers), employee communications (63%), and open enrollment (53%). Brokers are also being asked to put together a wider variety of benefits and to offer tech options to streamline and simplify enrollment and access. To match employers' needs, brokers are also increasingly developing social media strategies to stay connected with clients.

Dental coverage is still a leading option for brokers, but some new trends are driving that area forward. Plans that offer prescription discounts are becoming more popular, and dental coverage that includes discounts on pet medication, while niche, can combine two insurance categories that employees appreciate.

CONCLUSION

The climate of employee-employer-broker relationships when it comes to health and dental coverage is mostly influenced by employees' expectations -- they want low-cost, easy-to-use plans that fit their needs. Employers want to provide these plans, and they need brokers' help to navigate their options and find the lowest-cost packages they can.
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