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A bridge too far?

Dental insurance tends to get left behind when private medical insurance and health cash plans are sold, with the assumption that these will provide sufficient dental cover.

This is a good time to review clients&#39 dental cover, given rumours of changes to NHS dentistry and costs. It has to be emphasised that the rumours are just that at present and the Department of Health has issued no proposals. They were enough, however, to prompt comment from the finance and consumer industries.

The National Consumer Council made a statement expressing “shock and disappointment at predicted steep rises in NHS dental charges” to around £100 for a check-up, scale and polish and a filling. It said: “Failing to tackle lack of transparency in charging will do nothing to stem exploitative charging practices that capitalise on people&#39s lack of knowledge about which treatments are available on the NHS and which available only privately.”

Ironically, it is in an attempt to simplify the price structure and lure more dentists back to the NHS that the Department of Health is thought to be considering increases. The concern is more people may be deterred from NHS treatment because of the costs. The difficulty in finding an NHS dentist in the first place is well known.

It is thought that the cost of regular treatments may go up and the other idea is that a price cap will be placed on a course of treatment in recognition of the fact that many people have not seen a dentist for a long time. These people may ordinarily be stung with a big bill.

If routine treatment costs increase, there is an argument that people already going regularly to a dentist without insurance may now consider taking out cover Is dental insurance a worthwhile market for intermediaries?

Laing & Buisson says patients spent £2.5bn on general dental care in 2001/02, with around £1.9bn spent privately and £0.6bn on NHS charges. Of those paying privately, 75 per cent paid out of their own pocket and 25 per cent through some form of funding plan.

Universal Provident chairman John Pardoe says: “People have got so used to going private over the last 20 years, I suspect it is ingrained in our culture now. Even if the Government were to improve the NHS, I cannot see too many benefits in moving back into providing NHS dentistry and I cannot see too many consumers moving back. There is still a market for the NHS and that is for those who cannot afford private treatment but the majority now do go private.”

The market largely falls into individual and corporate cover, including company-paid and voluntary schemes as part of flexible benefit packages. When assessing products, it is worth checking those that will cover routine treatment including check-ups and those which only cover emergency treatment. It may be that emergency treatment will be covered by a PMI plan if the client has one and some of the costs of routine treatment if they have a health cash plan. But comprehensive cover may not come from a pure dental plan alone.

The combination of cover will depend on the client&#39s specific needs and the state of their oral health.

Medisure product manager (dental) Kelly Morris says: “Typically, PMI only covers treatment related to hospital treatment, for example, wisdom teeth extraction, and do not cover preventative treatment such as check-ups, hygienist treatment, X-rays and so on, which is part of oral health maintenance. PMI tends to step in when something has drastically gone wrong.

“Cash plans will give a set amount, say, £75, for dental care over the year whereas a dental indemnity plan will give so much for a crown, bridge or check-up and is much more comprehensive. You buy for peace of mind so you are not left with a big bill. If you go to a private practice, you can be paying from £100 to £1,000 for a crown.”

Pardoe says Universal Provident pays commission of 60 per cent of the first year&#39s premium, which he concedes is only around £70 in cash terms for a family policy.

The question is whether it is worth seeing a client to make a separate sale for dental cover. Pardoe says: “Most business gets sold on the back of another product, for example, PMI.”

One solution is to take advantage of a link that allows clients to buy dental cover direct. Intermediaries&#39 websites can provide a free link to Universal Provident&#39s website where clients can access its dental product. The intermediary gets the same commission for any product taken out by the client.



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