How are patients dealing with rising costs of dental coverage?

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Dental benefits are on many people’s minds these days, as stories from across the country testify.

In Georgia, Rockdale County employees are facing an increase in their premiums, Alice Queen of The Rockdale Citizen writes. Premiums are also rising  in Anoka County, Minn., Peter Bodley reports for The Anoka County Union Herald. In spite of the expense, these jurisdictions acknowledge the importance of providing dental benefits.

Research shows that without dental coverage, people get less care and suffer more.

Yet the expense of benefits and the complexity of obtaining them continue to present barriers to many people, and the Affordable Care Act did not completely address these problems.

A recent study from the American Dental Association explored the rates at which adults are buying stand-alone dental benefits on health insurance marketplaces established under the nation’s health care reform law. The study found the take-up rate of dental benefits within the newly established health insurance marketplaces was, on average, just 21.2 percent for adults and 20.1 percent for children. The authors of the report suggested that steps including “improving information transparency” might help shoppers do a better job of  weighing their choices and finding plans.

A new infostat from a consumer information website could offer some help in that department. HealthPocket.com researches and compares health plans with a goal of bringing more transparency to insurance markets. The site looked at premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for dental plans on the federal exchange and compared costs for different insurers to determine how costs for dental coverage vary across states using the federal exchange

The average monthly premium for adult dental plans in 2014 was $31.81 with monthly premiums ranging from $9.99 to $91.20, HealthPocket.com concluded. Among the states on the federal exchange, Alaska had the highest average monthly premiums ($63.61) while West Virginia had the lowest ($23.70).

Deductibles also varied among the states, the study found. The average deductible for federal exchange dental plans was $41.55, with Alaska’s coming in the lowest at $20 and Maine’s the highest at $75.

Unlike pediatric dental coverage, adult dental services are not included in the Affordable Care Act’s list of essential health benefits.  Still, the majority of dental plans on the federal exchange are offering coverage to both adults and children.

How are people weighing out the costs and benefits of dental coverage in your state or community?  If you don’t know, maybe it is time to ask.

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