Employers nationwide are looking for ways to attract and retain talent and differentiate themselves from competing employers, and many are looking to the two most popular voluntary benefits: employee dental and vision plans.

That’s important in today’s tight job market. After all, a recent survey from CareerBuilder found that 55% of workers believed an employer’s menu of benefits was more important than salary when considering a job position or offer.

Here’s why dental and vision benefits are so popular and why, if you don’t already do so, you should consider offering them as well.

Background

For many years, dental and vision plans were employer-paid. They were just part of a standard package available to full-time workers at little or no cost to themselves.

However, as businesses have tightened their belts, many of them moved dental and vision plans to the voluntary benefits side of the ledger, with employees picking up some or all of the premium costs via payroll deduction.

Even when workers are covering the costs, dental and vision plans are overwhelmingly popular with them, because of the relatively low out-of-pocket premiums and the terrific value they provide.

Appeal to workers

Employees like vision and dental benefits because they provide real savings that they and their families are able to see every year — because they actually use the plans.

That’s compared to other voluntary benefits like major medical, life insurance and disability insurance, which employees may need many years down the road, if ever.

According to the “2021 MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Survey,” 68% of employees consider dental insurance and 49% consider vision benefits to be among their “must have” benefits.

Their employers like them because they can provide these benefits, cementing the bond of loyalty between the employer and employee, for a small fraction of the overall compensation budget. Indeed, dental premiums have been falling in recent years.

Appeal to employers

Employers are also embracing dental and vision care as research is increasingly pointing to good dental and vision health as correlated to overall health — hopefully improving worker productivity and reducing eventual health care costs.

For example, diabetes and high blood pressure are increasingly being discovered during routine eye exams. Optometrists across the country are commonly finding early warning signs of hypertension from observing ocular pressure — a nearly invisible symptom outside of eye exams.

Their patients armed with this knowledge are able to seek intervention before their condition worsens and results in bigger claims against the employer health plan. A study by HCMS Group found that:

  • 34% of all diabetes cases are first identified via eye exams, at a saving of $3,120 per employee, according to HCMS Group.
  • 39% of all hypertension cases are first identified via eye exams, at an average saving of $2,233 per employee.
  • 62% of high-cholesterol cases are first identified through eye exams — saving $1,360 in eventual health care costs thanks to early detection.

Finally, simply offering something like a vision plan — especially to workers who are at high risk of eye strain from staring at a computer for hours every day — sends an important message to workers that you care about their wellness.

Who pays premiums?

According to the National Association of Dental Plans:

  • Only 6% of employers are currently paying the entire cost of employee dental benefits.
  • At 24% of employers, the worker pays 100% of the cost via a payroll deduction program.
  • 70% of employers share the premium cost with staff who sign up.

Plan structures

Furthermore, about 80% of group dental plans are preferred provider organizations, or PPOs, which aim to control costs by contracting with a limited network of providers willing to cut their rates to plan members in exchange for the promise of a steady stream of plan referrals.

The percentage of plans embracing the PPO model has been increasing, while dental HMOs and old-fashioned indemnity plans have been losing market share.