Boynton short of student dental-plan enrollment goal

Officials hope to attract 1,200 new students this week.

Branden Largent

The Office of Student Health Benefits is in the midst of a marketing push to get at least 2,000 University of Minnesota students enrolled in the Voluntary Student Dental Plan by Monday.

Student demand was the original reason for the campus plan, which is far below its enrollment goal, but officials speculate students are staying on their parents’ plan or with hometown dentists instead.

As of Friday, about 800 students had signed up for the dental plan, and Student Health Benefits Director Susann Jackson is hopeful the office will reach its goal within the week.

Last year, more than 1,700 students signed up, with 1,200 enrolling in the fall and about 500 in the spring semester. Jackson said she was satisfied with the numbers, though they were below what the benefits office projected.

“This fall, it’s like we’re starting over again,” Jackson said.

Last year, Boynton Health Service extended the fall deadline and included a spring enrollment option to ensure every student had the opportunity to learn about the new program and sign up, Jackson said. That isn’t likely to happen this year, she said.

The price of this year’s dental plan increased by roughly $20 this year to about $180 per semester because Boynton saw more claims than actual dollars coming in last year, Jackson said.

Although the price increased from last year, Jackson said it’s still lower than the cost of two checkups, two teeth cleanings and X-rays, which are free with the 12-month coverage, as well as up to $1,000 in total dental benefits.

Student demand for a benefit plan was the primary reason for the student benefits office teaming with MetLife to get the University a dental insurance plan, according to Boynton literature on the program.

“I’ve worked at Boynton for 38 years, and we’ve always had inquiries about the University offering dental coverage,” Jackson said.

Mary Kiffe, the dental clinic’s associate administrator, said she thinks students aren’t signing up for the dental plan because many still see their hometown dentists during holiday breaks.

“It’s kind of hard to break away from that,” Kiffe said. “Once you develop a great relationship with a dentist, you want to keep it.”

With recent health care reform, students are able to stay under their parents’ dental insurance plans longer, which could be another factor in lower enrollment, said Greg Fountain, a client sources consultant for MetLife.

University sophomore Lexi Diederich, like many students, said she didn’t enroll with the plan because she’s still covered under her parents’ dental insurance.

“It seems like a good idea, but it works better for me to just use it from home,” Diederich said.

Kiffe also said students might be avoiding spending on top of tuition, books, health care and other expenses.

She said most students with the plan seemed thankful to have the dental coverage last year since many had necessary dental work they’d been putting off without coverage.

Fountain said MetLife was hoping for at least 10 percent of the University’s population to enroll in the dental plan last year, but the enrollment ended up closer to 1 percent.

He said the insurance company’s relationship with the Office of Student Health Benefits has been great, but it may increase communication to figure out how to get more students enrolled in the future.