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Brushing up on health care costs

If your office budgets reset with the calendar year, you’re likely breathing a sigh of relief.  There’s something nice about having a fresh start, isn’t there?

Still, if we’re being honest, there’s a good chance your pain points from 2016 will be your pain points in 2017.

Some things, such as corporate processes and meeting schedules, are likely within your control.  It’s the ones we feel we have little to no control over which tend to haunt us.  (Think: fuel costs, new competitors and raw materials).

As president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin, the pain point I hear from business people across all industries is rising health care costs.

I, like most everyone in health care, agree that doctors, insurers and consumers all need to do more to help rein in costs. What I don’t agree with is the sentiment voiced by some business owners that there is nothing they can do.

If your business struggles with health care costs, there’s a good chance your insurance broker has talked with you about cost containment strategies, such as corporate wellness programs, price comparison tools and self-insurance options.  All can provide needed relief if used effectively.

Today, however, I’d like to talk about putting some real teeth into your benefits strategy.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 40 percent of Americans ages 18 to 64 do not receive regular dental care. This results in an estimated 164 million work hours lost each year due to oral health problems or dental visits, and 51 million in school hours lost each year related to dental illness (US Department of Health and Human Services: Oral Health in America: A report of the Surgeon General).

Despite this lost time, dental benefits remain an afterthought for many employers.  They shouldn’t be.

A 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that screening for chronic conditions in dental offices could reduce U.S. health care costs by up to $102.6 million per year, or up to $32.72 per person screened.  That’s real money and real value from a simple trip to the dentist.

How can you capture those kinds of savings? Look for health plans that offer “integrated dental benefits” – a fancy way of saying that your medical and dental plans that work together to promote overall employee health.

Since poor health can show signs anywhere in the body, it only makes sense to connect dental and medical plans. Integrated health care programs, where members have both medical and dental benefits, like Anthem Whole Health Connection, link dental data to medical data, empowering personalized, proactive treatment of the whole person. Population health analytics transforms dental and medical data into patient health profiles and other actionable insights so your employees get the care they need, when they need it.

For example, nearly 65 million Americans over age 30 suffer from periodontal disease. Among those who are pregnant or managing chronic diseases, effective intervention and treatment of periodontal disease has been found to result in up to 74 percent lower medical costs and hospitalizations.

Here are four key features to focus on when evaluating dental insurance options for your business:

  • Look for high-quality dental providers and benefit plans which offer 100 percent in-network coverage for diagnostic and preventive services (exams, cleaning and X-rays).
  • Make sure dentists in the network are convenient for your employees to visit, otherwise they are less likely to use their dental benefits.
  • Getting your medical and dental benefits from the same insurer can result in less administrative paperwork for everyone involved. That means one bill, one enrollment, one ID card…and one less thing to worry about.
  • Verify that the dental network offers substantial discounts and provides a variety of funding options for the employer. For example, Anthem’s dental plans offer employers total budget planning flexibility with a range of contribution options from 100 percent all the way down to a zero contribution/voluntary plan.

Remember, a healthy workforce is a happier, more productive one.  Dental cleanings won’t solve all your health care woes, but with 90 percent of the body’s diseases showing signs and symptoms in the mouth, businesses are well advised to make dental care a cornerstone of their health care strategies.

To learn more about how integrated medical and dental benefits can improve health and save money, visit

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Nobile is a 20-year veteran of the insurance industry whose experience includes time with Rush Prudential Health Plans, Aetna, and United Healthcare. Prior to joining Anthem, Nobile served as the Director of Sales and Account Management for the Midwest region at UniCare, a health benefits company based in Chicago and owned by Anthem’s parent company and also ran UniCare’s Eastern Region with offices.

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