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Highmark says dental care saves diabetics thousands in drug costs

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 10:04 a.m.

Diabetics who receive regular dental care and treatment for gum disease spent an average of $1,477 less per year on prescription drugs than diabetics who don't see dentists, an insurance industry study found.

Highmark Inc. subsidiary United Concordia Dental on Wednesday released results of the study, which examined claims records of 1.7 million patients with United Concordia dental insurance and Highmark medical insurance.

It followed results released in March that showed diabetics who received regular dental treatments spent $1,814 less each year on hospitalizations and doctor visits.

United Concordia's dental director, Jim Bramson, said the oral health study — the largest of its kind — delivers a strong message.

“Annual health care savings of more than $3,200 are possible when you combine the medical and pharmacy savings for individuals with diabetes (who) are treated for gum disease,” Bramson said.

In the latest results, patients treated at least seven times for gum disease showed the average reduction in pharmacy costs. The March results showed that diabetics who received treatment for gum disease had 33 percent fewer hospitalizations and 13 percent fewer doctor visits than those who didn't seek dental treatment.

In response to its findings, United Concordia this fall introduced a benefit called UCWellness in 26 states, including Pennsylvania, Bramson said. It can be added to dental plans for the 2013 benefit year to cover 100 percent of costs for added treatments such as cleaning and surgery, he said.

United Concordia estimated a company with 2,000 employees is likely to have 200 to 250 people with diabetes. If just six of those workers made use of benefits, the projected medical savings would cover the employer's cost of UCWellness, Bramson said.

Dr. Anthony J. Cannon, a Hamilton, N.J., endocrinologist and regional board president for the American Diabetes Association who reviewed the results for United Concordia, said the study's findings “are consistent with an emerging body of evidence associating gingivitis, type 2 diabetes and vascular disease.”

Highmark and United Concordia plan to expand the study to try to determine whether improved oral health can reduce costs associated with preterm births, heart disease and stroke.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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