As employers continue to meet the challenges of rising health care costs and compliance with the Affordable Care Act, benefit advisers say voluntary dental benefit sales are increasing, a trend confirmed by a recent report from Avon, Conn.-based Eastbridge Consulting.

Employers are cutting back on programs that they’ve historically paid, including dental. But because employees still crave choice and coverage, voluntary dental benefits are becoming a hot commodity and advisers should take note, benefit brokers tell EBA.

“Now is a great time to sell any voluntary program, dental included,” says Rob Shestack, senior vice president at AmWINS Group Benefits in North Kingstown, R.I.

Tamela Southan, a broker at Benefit Solutions by Design in Richardson, Texas, agrees more employers are building their voluntary platform to include dental, “when the employer may have paid for it previously.”

“Younger employees value choice and voluntary benefits provide choices,” says Jennifer Brittain, employee benefits consultant at Brown & Brown in Pryor, Okla. “As employers are forced to make changes to their health plans that often include reduced benefits, voluntary benefits provide employees with options to reduce their out of pocket expenses.”

Most employers share the same concerns, cost and employee retention, she adds. “Brokers need to educate employers on how employee benefits can be one solution in an overall strategy to achieve these goals.”

Now that pediatric dental is one of the required essential benefits under the ACA, Brittain says small employers, particularly, are interested in knowing about voluntary dental plans.

“In our market in Oklahoma, some of the medical carriers are offering pediatric dental as an option and not blending it into the health plan. Therefore, the additional cost is relatively expensive. We can offer a voluntary dental plan to all employees that includes a pediatric dental option that is less expensive than the option the medical carrier offers,” she says.

While the ACA requirement for pediatric dental coverage has created some new options, Julie Jennings, a broker at Sylvia Insurance in Dartmouth, Mass. says the increased options have confused employers. She says employers are unsure about “what the law requires of them” and whether they should purchase pediatric dental as part of a medical or dental plan.

Benefit advisers can offer value by helping employers navigate the new pediatric dental requirements.

Jennings says the increase in options also appears to be creating a “me too” trend in the industry, “where one carrier comes out with some new feature like rollover max and other carriers add it.”

She predicts carriers will begin to offer more “dual option” dental plans, where employees have a choice of different plans and costs, as the number of private exchanges and defined contribution plans in the market increase.

See related: ACA pediatric dental compliance: Four strategies for brokers

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