ARCHIVED  January 1, 1997

Delta sinks teeth into market

The state’s largest nonprofit dental-insurance carrier has expanded its presence in Northern Colorado this year by taking over coverage of city employees for both Fort Collins and Loveland.

Delta Dental Plan will provide dental coverage to the approximately 1,700 city employees in Fort Collins and about 600 city employees in Loveland, a company spokesman said.

Both cities have selected the Delta Preferred Option plan, which operates much like a preferred provider organization. Under the plan, dentists with private practices agree to accept a reduced fee to treat Delta members.

Dennis Phillips, vice president of marketing in Delta’s Denver office, said about 10 dentists currently participate in the DPO plan in Fort Collins, while a couple of dentists participate in Loveland. However, other dentists in surrounding areas also are members of the network.

He said he expects more dentists to join the DPO program in both cities now that Delta has entered the market in a bigger way.

When Delta picked up coverage for employees at the University of Colorado in Boulder a couple of years ago, it had only about two Boulder dentists participating in the plan. Now it has 16, Phillips said.

Although Delta has insured smaller groups in the Fort Collins market, the city coverage marks a major group contract in the area for the carrier, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Colorado Dental Association said the organization has 85 members in Fort Collins and about 136 throughout Larimer County.

Dr. Michael Iacoboni, a dentist who operates a private practice in Loveland and edits publications for the association, said there are about 300 different dental-insurance plans offered in Larimer County.

“One company can offer a number of plans,” he said.

Iacoboni said he accepts indemnity insurance coverage for patients but does not participate in any preferred provider networks. He said most dentists in Northern Colorado are independent, and about 90 percent accept indemnity insurance.

He said he doesn’t expect Delta’s expansion into the market to have a significant impact on dental practices in the area.

“Delta won’t change things,” he said. “They may be a portent of the future. But the economic incentive isn’t there yet for the dentist (to participate in PPOs).”

Even though the ratio of dentists to the population is relatively high and the market is somewhat saturated, most dentists are prospering because of the area’s strong economy, he said.

Statewide, Delta Dental covers about 420,000 people through its various plans. Last year, Delta paid out over $46 million in dental benefits in Colorado on revenues of about $60 million.

Delta insures about 700 groups throughout the state, Phillips said. That includes many unions such as carpenters, electricians and the construction trade. The company offers dental insurance only to groups of 10 or more, he said.

Phillips said Delta has the largest market share of any dental-insurance plan in the state, up to about 30 percent of the market. It competes primarily with large insurance carriers such as Prudential, Aetna and FHP that offer dental as well as medical coverage.

Delta hopes to expand its market in Northern Colorado even more, Phillips said.

“It’s ongoing with so many proposals,” he said.

The Delta Dental Plan of Colorado was founded in 1958 with the assistance of the Colorado Dental Association. Currently, more than 2,200 dentists or approximately 85 percent of the state’s practicing dentists participate in Delta’s various programs, Phillips said.

Delta, which operates 42 separate plans across the country, is the largest dental-benefit provider in the nation covering more than 25 million people. Last year, it paid out more than $3 billion in dental benefits. The national organization was started in 1954.

“It actually started on the West Coast,” Phillips said. The International Longshoremen’s Association was seeking benefits for members’ children, but at that time the insurance industry didn’t believe that dental care was feasible.

“It would have been too easy to take out a plan, get some dental work done, and then drop it. That’s why they didn’t think it was insurable,” Phillips said. “I feel that the only way it can work is on a group basis.”

Phillips said development of the dental-insurance industry is trailing behind the medical-insurance business by five to 10 years.

“It’s the employers who decide to put these plans in,” he said.

The state’s largest nonprofit dental-insurance carrier has expanded its presence in Northern Colorado this year by taking over coverage of city employees for both Fort Collins and Loveland.

Delta Dental Plan will provide dental coverage to the approximately 1,700 city employees in Fort Collins and about 600 city employees in Loveland, a company spokesman said.

Both cities have selected the Delta Preferred Option plan, which operates much like a preferred provider organization. Under the plan, dentists with private practices agree to accept a reduced fee to treat Delta members.

Dennis Phillips, vice president of marketing in Delta’s Denver office, said about 10 dentists…

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