“You offer medical benefits? Wow.” That phrase was spoken by a hygienist I recently interviewed for a position. What sticks out is not that she was unique in saying it, it was that many of the hygienists I interview say something to that effect. A number of the hygienists I interview are not accustomed to being offered health insurance.
RDH eVillage (the online version of RDH Magazine) conducted the 2016 Salary survey and published several articles about the results, which involved 2,543 dental hygienists. The series of articles appearing in RDH eVillage focused on job benefits, hourly rates, and annual income.
53% of full-time dental hygienists surveyed indicated they had access to medical benefits through their employer. By way of comparison, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 88% of registered nurses have access to employer sponsored health insurance.
The chief reason hygienists do not have insurance is because they work in private practice (about 80% of us do)**. Businesses with less than 50 employees are not required to provide medical benefits to employees, and though many private offices may wish to offer insurance, they may be unable to afford to.
This tells us that about half of the hygienists out there, working full time, do not have medical coverage available through their job; of course, many of these hygienists may be covered through their spouse, the Affordable Care Act, or perhaps have purchased an individual plan; though I will address why these are not always the ideal options.
Firstly, let’s tackle the insured spouse/partner. When I think of a hygienist being covered by their spouses’ medical insurance, one question comes instantly to mind; what happens if the spouse loses their job, or is suddenly unable to work? Many of us have probably seen this happen to someone we know. Most of us do not plan for divorce, of course, but that also happens sometimes. What about spouses of hygienists who choose to stay home with children?
Next, Dental Hygienists covered under the affordable care act. Hygienists often do not qualify for subsides that reduce monthly premiums, which require you to estimate your total income for the upcoming year. If your total income is between 100% and 400% of the poverty threshold, you’re eligible for assistance. *** If not, you will not qualify for any subsides. For a hygienist earning $76,000 per year with two dependents, monthly premiums average$480, and that is with a $13,500 deductible. That bears repeating – $13,000 deductible and this is with a small subsidy. Of course, the subsidies get better the less you earn, but most hygienists I know are hoping to increase their salary with time, not reduce it.
Private, individual plans are not always much better, and are often catastrophic plans with high deductibles.
Medical insurance is a provocative and controversial topic these days, no matter how you look at it or who you talk to. But one thing is for sure, most of us need it if we are not independently and exceedingly wealthy. Even young and otherwise well hygienists can have unexpected emergencies (a broken ankle snow skiing will set you back $7500). Catching a strong virus can as well, with a three day hospital stay costing upwards of $30,000.*** If you are a young, healthy person who manages to avoid getting sick or injured, know that there is a link between having health insurance and receiving better health care. Research shows that people with health insurance are more likely to have a regular doctor and to get care when they need it. You are more likely to get preventative care that will keep you healthier later on.***
While I’m on the subject of care when you need it, pregnancy and childbirth is of course not uncommon for women. Four years ago, a relatives’ emergency C-section bill came to $26,000, not including the hospital stay. Thankfully, they were insured. I have no idea what happens to folks who are not.
Medical debt can be crushing, and can wipe someone out financially, and that is compounded when their income depends on them being able bodied, as most clinical hygiene positions do.
It makes me dispirited thinking about hygienists, who dedicate their careers to bolstering other people’s health for a living, being so vulnerable. Hygienists do make good money, but if they suddenly can’t work, this matters little. This is why in addition to health benefits, having access to short and long-term disability is so crucial for hygienists, who work with their hands. Carpal tunnel, back issues, and chronic pain are quite common among hygienists, even younger ones. If a hygienist is sidelined by surgery or therapy to correct these issues, they do not often have a way to make up the lost income.
So far I have addressed matters concerning the here and now. But what of long term security? Only 23% of full-time dental hygienists have employer sponsored life insurance.* Not many young, vigorous hygienists are thinking about death (I am right there with you) but life insurance is critical, especially if you are the main bread winner, or a single parent. Obviously, your dependents will benefit from the cash if you are not there to earn income.
What about retirement? 88% of registered nurses have access to retirement benefits, while only 67% of full-time dental hygienists do.* If you are like me, over, ahem, forty, retirement has surely occurred to you. Probably, (hopefully) most of us will not work in clinical hygiene when we are elderly. Hygienists simply must have a plan in place.
I am not in the habit of writing blog posts that are filled with doom and gloom, and certainly not ones that induce stress or fear. The intended purpose of this post is to let you know there is good news among the bad, serene among the scary. The positive angle is that there are hygienist employers who offer all the benefits to keep hygienists and their families healthy and financially safe and secure. Just typing that sentence makes me smile.
American Dental Partners, I believe, offers one of the best, if not the best, benefit packages in the industry for full time hygienists.
Our full-time hygienists are offered a full suite of benefits to choose from, including:
Medical-multiple plans with various premiums and deductible amounts to choose from.
Dental benefits for you and your family that goes far beyond traditional benefits for hygienists. Ours includes specialty and orthodontic care. (This is important if you currently work in a general practice that does not do orthodontic care on the premises. If your family needs orthodontic, pediatric, endodontic or periodontal care, you may be on your own in a general private practice setting.)
Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts in many of our affiliates dental groups.
Life and accidental death and dismemberment benefits at no cost to the employee. This is paid 100% by ADP and covers one and a half times your annual salary up to $300,000.
Additional options for life insurance that you can contribute to for a very minimal amount that pay out much more.
Long and short-term disability plans that cover a portion of your salary; I personally took advantage of this during my own maternity leave. If you need, say, back surgery, we quite literally have your back.
Hospital Indemnity plans-help cover out of pocket hospital costs; available in many of our affiliated dental groups.
Critical Care plans- pay out a lump sum if you receive a critical diagnosis such as a heart attack or stroke; available in many of our affiliated dental groups.
401K with employer match
Jury Duty and Bereavement pay; available in many of our affiliates dental groups.
Many of our affiliates even offer plans that provide discounts on certain wellness activities such as yoga, acupuncture, Pilates, personal training and nutritional counseling. Our Blue 365 plan offers discounts on fitness, family care services, financial advice and travel.
Employee Assistance programs that help with life crisis and substance abuse counseling resources.
Even our part time hygienists are eligible for rewards! For part timers, there are CE offerings, paid training, mentoring, community service opportunities, and of course, the opportunity to transition to full time.
ADP believes that by offering this peace of mind to our team members, our team members take better care of themselves and their patients. That only makes sense; people who are taken care of are freer to give attention to others.
I encourage you to consider your current benefit package (if you have one) and compare it with American Dental Partners’. I am sure you will be impressed and perhaps even surprised with our offerings.
Benjamin Franklin said “distrust and caution are the parents of security”. What astute words! It isn’t fun to imagine becoming ill, being sidelined by an accident, or being out of work. It certainly isn’t fun to think about dying. Most of us (myself included) try not think about it too much. But the reality is, stuff does happen. Life happens. Knowing you are protected when it does should happen too.
Andrea Kowalczyk, RDH
**US Bureau of Labor and Statistics