Both employers and individuals are increasingly valuing dental, vision and wellness benefits driven by a rising awareness of the links between oral health and general health and wellbeing.
While Covid-19 brought about a new set of oral health challenges, particularly inflation, DeCare has seen strong membership growth over the past two years in Ireland. It’s dental membership increased by 14% in 2021 with growth in the year to date of 6.5%. Vision membership continues to gain traction in an environment where people are spending a great deal of time at their screens, according to the company’s managing director Maureen Walsh. A subsidiary of US health benefits provider, Anthem, DeCare is Ireland’s only specialist dental, vision and wellness benefits provider, serving a total of 500 companies and 56,000 individual members across a range of sectors. First established in Ireland in 1999, it’s team has grown from 115 to 135 people in the past two years.
“The dental inflation rate being experienced by our members over the past 18 months is around 10% and there are waiting lists for many dental practices. This has resulted in more people seeking assistance towards the rising costs of dental care. Our dental insurance products help to mitigate this financial burden. The fact that employers and staff are valuing this and have become accustomed to dental benefits is creating a lot more momentum in the market”, she says.
“Driven by Covid-19, companies recognise they have a responsibility to keep their staff well and have identified dental and vision benefits as a key enabler.”
They are also increasingly seeing such benefits as a meaningful way to hold onto staff and attract new employers. Candidates are now actively asking whether prospective employers have dental and vision insurance. With the rising popularity of benefits, DeCare continues to invest considerable time and effort in research, education and delivering wellness programmes to align with societal needs. The team addresses key areas including employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, employee wellbeing and mental health and customer wellbeing and satisfaction.
“It’s all fine and well to have a financial plan for your care, but you need to understand why you have it and how to use it. Our team looks at the whole connection between oral health and the entire body and the direct correlation between dental problems and people’s ability to speak, eat, be confident and have human connection,” Walsh explains.
DeCare has been delivering customised virtual wellbeing programmes since the first lockdown. These have continued ever since depending on customer requirements – some companies opt for a monthly session while a lot prefer quarterly programmes. “We have seen a very big demand for our wellness programmes during the pandemic. There has been a lot of different dynamics at play, from stress caused by working from home and grinding of teeth to an increase in the cosmetic side driven by employees looking at themselves on camera every day,” says Walsh. “During a virtual session, our team will do a presentation on topics such a healthy eating habits for kids or how oral health relates to mental health. A lot of programmes are focused on the whole person. By looking after your mouth, you have the power to be a chronic disease preventer. Over 120 diseases can be detected in the mouth.”
Despite domestic and global challenges, Walsh believes there is cause for great optimism and the opportunities that lie ahead. “Our industry is experiencing momentum. New business models are emerging and we must play a leading role in keeping our workforce and our customer workforce well in order to deliver for a multi-generational society. 2021 was a milestone year for the DeCare team and 2022 is off to a dynamic start. In many respects, the company is thriving as we continue to pursue a growth agenda and important transformation initiatives,” she says.
“The pandemic has brought about recognition that public health is multidimensional and must be addressed and financed in a multidimensional manner. This will become more pronounced over time and we must influence progress to ensure that insurance and complementary services play a vital role in financing dental and vision care. The cost of dentistry and our relationship with dental practices will be key areas of focus for us over the coming period.”
Research and Innovation
An estimated €90bn a year is spent on providing dental treatment in the EU and not enough money is being spent on preventing oral diseases and improving oral health outcomes. Against this backdrop, DeCare has teamed up with a consortium of 11 partners in academia, data analytics, oral health services, research and dental insurance in eight EU countries to assist the development of a more sustainable dental care system that promotes health across the EU. Called Advocate Oral Health, this five-year project is funded under EU Horizon 2020. DeCare is working with EU partners to advance other projects in the current round of EU Horizon funding. Dave Casey, DeCare’s wellness manager, is also pioneering doctoral research at Trinity College Dublin, which is focused on the vital role that human connection plays in a person’s wellbeing and how companies have the power to drive change at a societal level.
Interview with DeCare’s Managing Director Maureen Walsh. DeCare were proud to sponsor the 2022 SFA Small Business Awards.