Satisfying your customers' and members' needs could be the difference between succeeding in these belt-tightening times or watching your employer market evaporate. It will take more than a flashy marketing campaign to win over employers who are focused on the bottom line and reducing contracts.
Employers want simplicity—and that means bringing services such as disease management, wellness, pharmacy benefit management, and dental in-house. This one-stop solution is a way health plans can set themselves apart from the competition, allowing employers to deal with fewer health companies, and reducing member confusion.
Coordinating services was why Capital BlueCross in Harrisburg, PA, recently bought Dominion Dental Services, a privately held corporation with 400,000 members that is based in Alexandria, VA. Capital offers health benefits to nearly one million people in 21 counties in central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley and is one of four Blues operating in the Keystone State. Once the sale is finalized, Capital will become the only Blue-branded dental plan in central Pennsylvania. Dominion will provide the back office work for BlueCross Dental, such as processing claims, while Capital will brand the dental program with its marketing. (Dominion will continue to provide services to its Mid-Atlantic members in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and Washington, DC.)
Sandra Neydl, manager of product implementation for Capital BlueCross, says the purchase of Dominion broadens Capital's portfolio as well as offers administration simplicities and efficiencies to its customers.
Why would a health insurer want to get involved in dental insurance?
Robert Zirkelbach, director of strategic communications at America's Health Insurance Plans, says customers are increasingly demanding dental coverage and health insurers see a connection between oral health and other conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, he says. There are two others reasons:
There is an initial downside. Health plans that offer dental coverage will need to hire new staff with a dental background. "If you are going to be successful in the dental business, you are going to need an entire group of individuals focused solely on dental benefits," says Freer of BCBS of IL, which began offering dental benefits in 1975 and now provides dental PPOs and HMOs to more than one million members.
Adding dental is particularly important for Capital. Two Blues plans in Pennsylvania, Independence Blue Cross and Highmark, have proposed a merger that would create a giant health plan that would stretch across most of the state. The state is expected to decide on the merger in the first quarter of 2009.
Neydl says the Dominion purchase is not in response to the proposed merger. Regardless of the reason, dental does make Capital a more appealing option for potential customers and a way to compete against larger health plans.
Streamlining processes and communications for employers is a way to stay competitive in a shrinking employer market. As health plans forge ahead in a rough economy, they should explore moving services in-house. Bringing in dental coverage in-house will mean adding staff, but dental will produce a steady stream of money and allow your company to have a more rounded view of members.