Dental care is finally getting the tech makeover that long ago transformed the mainstream healthcare sector.
Level is a new healthcare startup offering what it describes as “a new approach to benefits.” Launching Tuesday, the employer-sponsored benefit program makes finding, booking, and paying for dental work a simple and easy-to-understand process. It gives employees of Level-participating companies all the information they need in a digestible app that works much like, well, Seamless.
Level lists local providers and compares costs up front, meaning no mystery surrounding a procedure’s price. A dashboard organizes all the appointments in one place and keep tabs on remaining benefits. If you get a procedure–basically anything beyond preventative care–you can pay via a stored credit card.
It even sends push notifications when it’s time to schedule a teeth cleaning.
Level doesn’t just benefit the consumer: It offers employers a new way to self-insure benefits.
Roughly two-thirds of Americans have private dental coverage, reports the National Association of Dental Plans, with 90% receiving coverage benefits through an employer or a group program like AARP. Traditionally, full insurance plans entail paying an insurance company a monthly premium, and at the end of the year, that insurance company keeps any unused benefits.
Meanwhile, one-third of working adults don’t ever go to the dentist. “So oftentimes, employers are spending quite a lot on their policies,” says Level founder and CEO Paul Aaron. “And some people use their benefits a lot, and some people don’t use them at all.”
Employers working with Level only pay for the care their employees actually use. They can also customize plans to include benefits like adult orthodontia and–if they’re feeling generous–teeth whitening. This method, says Aaron, saves companies up to 20% on dental benefits spending.
The goal is to streamline and add transparency to U.S. dental care, an often neglected sector of healthcare. The U.S. sees 500 million annual dental visits, costing more than $100 billion. Level is funded by several investors, including First Round Capital’s Rob Hayes (Uber’s first institutional investor) and Homebrew’s Hunter Walk.
Aaron was inspired to launch the app after overseeing provider and care delivery products at Oscar Health. He tells Fast Company he saw too many consumers struggling with confusing insurance statements and dealing with the remaining out-of-pocket costs. Prior to Oscar Health, Aaron served as a product manager at Square, where he started the growth, payments, and card teams.
“With Level, we’re able to create an experience that feels a little similar to Apple Pay,” says Aaron. “You go to the dentist office, you get a push notification, you can pay for it right then and there, and you’re done.”
An easier way?
Traditional medical insurance generally works like this: You are forced to use the phone to call a doctor’s office for an appointment. A month after the appointment, you’re mailed a long, complicated invoice notifying you that an actual bill is en route. Once the bill finally shows up, you need to get back on the phone to process the payment–or worse, send an archaic check through the mail.
Then there’s the issue of deciphering which expenses were out-of-pocket, and exactly what your policy covers.
The Level app and online dashboard seamlessly guides users through the dental care process. It begins with a push notification urging the employee to make an appointment. From there, he or she accesses a search database that lists nearby dentists, indicating which are in or out of network with a simple checkmark.
Should the employee need something beyond a cleaning, like, say, a filling, they simply tap on a cost estimate of the procedure that details what an employee owes. Upon leaving the dentist’s office, a push notification informs the employee that Level is processing the claim right away. One can cover any costs with the simple “pay” button.
“It’s a digital experience,” notes Aaron. “We’ve tried hard to make this as really clear as possible.”
In conducting consumer research, the Level team found that many patients were confused about out-of-pocket expenses in the dental space, with few knowing what was and wasn’t covered by insurance. If Level users want details of the breakdown of costs, they can click for more beyond the summary. With its bare, sleek design, Level wants to offer the appropriate amount of information necessary, without overburdening the consumer with plan details.
“We really tried to do our best to kind of untangle all the different systems,” stresses Aaron. “We’ve built a new infrastructure to make these experiences feel really simple and more accessible.”
Level is already testing the product with a few companies, including a group of employees at Intercom. Moving forward, the startup intends to narrow in on employers ranging from 100 to a few thousand employees. For the time being, Level focuses on companies in the tech, healthcare, and nonprofit sectors.
In addition, the app will roll out a number of new features on both the consumer and employer ends. For example, Level will add more analytics dashboards to help companies better track benefit usage.
In the long run, Level has its sights set on more than just your next cavity filling. Aaron says the company plans to pursue more products in the voluntary benefits space that span categories like vision, disability, critical illness, and life insurance. A recent survey found that more than two-thirds of employers believe supplemental benefits will be “a very important component” of their total rewards strategy in next few years. In 2017, nearly half of large employers offered at least one of the three major voluntary benefits.
“Level allows these smaller companies to do what these larger organizations are already doing and save money,” says Aaron. “It’s a huge industry.”
The healthcare industry has seen an influx of new insurance startups as employer healthcare costs continue to rise. Collective Health, for example, is a technology platform that gives self-funded employers more control and insights on employee benefits. The company raised nearly $230 million from investors including Google Ventures and Founders Fund. Meanwhile, Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway collaborated on Haven, which aims to, among other goals, simplify insurance benefits.
Aaron believes that the Level model, which enables the consumer to better find, manage, and pay for care, will encourage more people to tend to their health. In a way, he says, it’s much like Square: It wasn’t the first company to offer credit card processing, but it brought a new approach that redesigned the whole experience. It made starting a business and accepting credit card payments a whole lot easier.
“With Level, it’s similar in terms of trying to make it really easy to understand your benefits,” says Aaron, “and therefore reduce a little bit of the stress to get you care.”