Dental tools in office Of the 20%of health insurers who do not offer dental benefits, more than halfof them are likely to offer it in the future, according to a recentstudy. (Photo: Shuterrstock)

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The combination of dental and health insurance plans isincreasing, according to a new West Monroe study, as health plansoffering adult dental benefits have more than doubled since 2018.Many health plan executives prefer offering consumers a single,bundled dental/health product. Although the dental plans areadministered separately–a one-product, two-premium model–given theunderwriting complexity.

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This is the principal finding of a new report, "Convergence of Dental and Health InsuranceAccelerates," released by West Monroe in June, a nationalbusiness and technology consulting firm. The survey fielded inputfrom over 100 executives at US-based dental and health insurers."It is becoming apparent that the health and dental insuranceindustries are on the verge of convergence, threatening to upendthe standalone-dental business model. This survey reinforces thecall to action for dental plans," said Will Hinde, managingdirector and West Monroe's Healthcare & Life Sciences practiceleader.

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Related: 5 best, 5 worst states for dentalhealth

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Dental insurers that will survive this convergence are the oneswho have already reacted to the changing business model, says thereport. Although there are skeptics. The number of respondents whobelieve that convergence will never happen has more than tripledsince 2018. The percentage of health insurers offering dentalinsurance products has risen substantially, from 68% in 2018 to 80%in 2020, and the percentage offering adult dental benefits has morethan doubled to 48%, according to the study.

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The study found, there is clearly a desire for "bundling."

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Of the 20% of health insurers who do not offer dental benefits,more than half of them are likely to offer it in the future,according to the study. Likewise, about half of dental respondentsforesee partnering with a health insurer by 2025.

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"A threat to a thriving business model – like the one standalonedental has profited from for decades—will inevitably feel like acrisis," said Hinde. "As disruptive as the changes may be, dentalinsurers that embrace the trend and get in front of it aggressivelywill be the winners," he added.

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This study and Monroe's January 2018 study, "Turning Point: TheFate of Standalone Dental," presented three potential marketshifts. Dental plans may be absorbed into overall health insurance(one product, one shared premium). Dental plans may be brought onas partners to health insurance (two products, shared or separatepremiums). Lastly, dental plans may diversify, including coveragesuch as life or short-term disability insurance.

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"The pandemic has introduced uncertainty, as tens of millions ofworkers lose their jobs, potentially leading to slumping insurancerevenues and a shift from employer-sponsored to individualcoverage," Hinde said. "Insurers that can offer technology tools tosupport their members or plans for those recently unemployed maysee opportunity. In the meantime, invoice credits, waiting periods,and teledentistry services will have a big impact."

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