The U.S. dental and vision insurance markets look great, partly because of the Affordable Care Act.
Deborah Sternberg, president of Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Starmount Life Insurance Co., gave that assessment today in an interview.
In the group market, "we have steady growth," Sternberg said.
In the individual market, she said, the ACA has had two types of positive effects on dental and vision sales.
The ACA individual major medical market changes that took effect in 2014 increased agents' individual health sales, she said. Agents "see stand-alone individual dental products as a logical cross-sell product," she said.
Now, "there's turmoil on the major medical side," Sternberg said. "We've absolutely seen an increase in the number of brokers selling our dental and vision products on the individual side."
Producers see increasing dental and vision sales as a way to help consumers while replacing lost major medical commission revenue, Sternberg said.
Unum Group acquired Starmount in August. The Chattanooga, Tennessee-based parent company will be offering Starmount's dental and vision products to the producers who sell traditional group benefits products in the United States under the Unum brand name.
Related: Unum completes Starmount deal
Unum will also offer Starmount products to the producers work with Unum's Colonial Life unit, which sells individual insurance products at the worksite, through worksite marketing programs.
Unum hopes to make Starmount products available to Unum-brand producers in one half of the United States in 2017, and the other half in 2018.
Colonial Life agents should get access to the products in 2018, she said.
Some financial analysts say some consumers should use health accounts in place of dental insurance. (Photo: iStock)
Dental and vision market floaters
One challenge Starmount faces these days is the idea that consumers can get basic dental coverage for children through an ACA exchange program.
Another challenge is arguments from financial analysts who say many consumers would be better off using the cash they could spend on dental insurance to pump up health savings account or flexible spending account totals.
Sternberg said she tells agents that the benefits in a stand-alone dental policy are often easier to understand, and wider in scope. "It's very important to offer dental and vision plans that can cover the entire family," she said.
When talking to advocates of the idea of using health accounts to replace dental insurance, Sternberg said she talks about the value of an insured dental plan's provider network.
The in-network dentists agree to provide covered services at a discount, even when the insured has reached the plan's out-of-pocket spending maximum, Sternberg said.
The plan also checks to see whether the in-network dentists are delivering the care they've said they've delivered, Sternberg said.
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