Size doesn’t always matter, but in launching the nation’s largest dental network with about 125,000 providers, Sun Life expects it will make a huge difference for benefits affordability.
“Being the largest is a very important part of the overall package that we have for dental,” says Stacia Almquist, vice president of dental and vision for Sun Life Financial, U.S., calling it “a door-opener” for benefit brokers to pitch their clients on an affordable dental benefits package. “It will increase the opportunity for our members to visit an in-network provider and have lower out-of-pocket costs, so it’s really about access.”
The new Sun Life Dental Network will enable employers in 43 states and the District of Columbia to provide competitive coverage with a sweeping national PPO. Montana and Rhode Island will have indemnity-only options. It will be rolled out in six other states as approved. Sun Life reps can guide brokers on approval timelines for those states, which still have access to the current network.
Existing customers will transition to the new Sun Life Dental Network from the Assurant Dental Network at one of the upcoming renewals over the next few years. It marks another milestone in the integration of Sun Life and Assurant Employee Benefits, which it acquired in March 2016.
One key growth strategy is an ability to recruit dentists and further expand its network, which is the largest in terms of number of dentists based on September 2017 data from Netminder. Sun Life offers a “network optimization” program for groups with generally more than 100 lives to help recruit dentists.
This enables brokers to spotlight the network’s value to clients and cost-savings potential for employees, which she says lay the foundation for higher satisfaction. As part of its messaging, Sun Life uses the term Network of One for recruiters to focus on what matters most to each individual member, which is maintaining ties to their favorite dentist.
Offering the nation’s largest dental network is part of a larger growth strategy for Sun Life’s broker partners to offer a broad portfolio that also includes vision, disability and absence management, life, voluntary and stop-loss insurance, according to Almquist. Sun Life Financial is one of the largest group benefits providers in the U.S., serving more than 60,000 small, midsize and large employers.
Fully-insured dental plans are available in small and midsize groups, while employers with more than 150 lives sometimes will request an administrative-services-only option on a self-insured basis. While Almquist points to a slight uptick in ASO arrangements on the dental side under the Affordable Care Act, which didn’t trickle down market as much as Sun Life expected, she says fully insured plans are still a good place to start for most employers.
For Sun Life, Almquist says the focus is on designing a wide range of flexible plans to fit the unique needs of each employee population and offer high-quality care. Options may include a preferred provider organization plan within the Sun Life Dental Network, dental health maintenance organization plan, prepaid, dual or triple choice plan.
“We’re trying to arm our brokers with that understanding, and show the availability and the flexibility that we have with our different products,” she says. “This will help them grow their revenue base by being able to offer consultative solutions to those employer groups that will really meet their needs.”
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