Delta Dental reaching out more to consumers

2013 07 11 10 42 57 939 Insurance Policy 200

As insurers evolve amid a changing marketplace and gear up to participate in the insurance exchanges required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Delta Dental Plans Association is expanding its consumer-centric marketing, in addition to its traditional B2B customers.

"The insurance landscape is evolving," Jennifer Elliott, Delta Dental's new vice president of marketing, told "Delta continues to be dedicated to the business-to-business group market. However, as with most insurers across the industry, there's been a demand from consumers to have insurers deal with them in a more consumer-centric way. Consumers want to get more involved and be more empowered to make informed choices and control costs in their insurance products."

“The insurance landscape is evolving.”
— Jennifer Elliott, Delta Dental Plans

Boasting 66 million customers who have access to more than 143,000 dentists, Delta Dental is the largest and oldest dental insurer in the U.S., with 39 independent member dental companies that sell insurance in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

In 1954, dentists in California, Oregon, and Washington formed the first company to offer dental coverage, led by the Washington Dental Service. These local organizations then joined to create the Delta Dental Plans Association in 1966, creating the first multistate dental benefits program.

Delta Dental posted approximately $18 billion in premium revenue in 2012, the company's 33rd consecutive year of gains. In 2011, Delta processed more than 93 million dental claims.

Delta offers a mix of group and individual plans, and has contracts with several states to administer dental coverage. The company also administers the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) program in Colorado and Iowa, and contracts with the Tricare healthcare program for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Health insurance exchanges

Now the company is also participating in the federal and state insurance exchanges that are part of the Affordable Care Act, noted Julia Grant, Delta Dental's vice president of government relations -- creating a whole new set of challenges. So far, Delta Dental is certified to participate in the California, Washington, and Colorado exchanges, and plans to offer coverage in the federally facilitated market.

"We've told the federal government we plan to be in all 50 states," Grant told

She acknowledged that many people don't understand the choices they'll be faced with when the exchanges open October 1.

"Delta Dental stands for choice and transparency for consumers so if you want a standalone product, if that's better for your family, you should have the ability to choose it," she said. "Or if a bundled or embedded product meets your needs financially, you should have that choice."

The federal government is using the Enroll America program to educate people about the exchanges and now has "navigators" available to help people understand their eligibility for various programs and subsidies.

"People are asking, 'Just how does this thing work? I've got four kids, but how does it work?' " Grant said. "This is one of the big political issues that's being batted around here in DC between the Republicans and the administration."

Each state will handle it differently, but on the federal exchanges, medical and dental plans have certain actuary value requirements they must to adhere to, Grant pointed out. "I'm not sure that's something people have been really educated about," she said.

As a nonprofit company, Delta Dental's core mission is increasing access to oral care and education, noted Bill Hupp, who handles public relations and social media. In 2012, Delta Dental donated $42.5 million to oral health programs nationwide, providing financial support to more than 550 organizations and charities that helped 5.3 million children and adults. The company also funds research for treatment, prevention, oral health education, and improving dental education, he emphasized.

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