More access to pediatric dental care could increase health exchange premiums

Starting in 2014, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will provide children greater access to dental care. Pediatric dental care is among the essential health benefits that new health plans must cover within health exchanges as well as individual and small-group plans under the law.

Citing Milliman research, this Washington Post article discusses out-of-pocket maximums associated with these new health plans that make dental benefits richer. Out-of-pocket maximums would curb the cost families incur for expensive dental services compared to annual or lifetime limits.

Here is an excerpt:

Evelyn Ireland, executive director of the National Association of Dental Plans, says families who need expensive dental care such as braces may fare better in dental plans sold on the exchanges than in the plans many employers currently offer.

Nationwide, medically necessary orthodontia costs roughly $6,500 per person, Ireland says. Currently, if a private dental plan covers orthodontia, the benefit typically covers 50 percent of the cost, up to a lifetime limit of $1,000 or $1,500. “So it ends up basically being a down payment,” she says.

Assuming braces are a covered benefit, the family of a child with dental coverage through an exchange might have to pay the maximum out-of-pocket limit – $1,000, perhaps – and owe nothing more that year for the child’s dental care. But any other expenses would be covered, since plans can’t have dollar limits on coverage.

That unlimited coverage will probably add to the premium for pediatric dental coverage, however.

Ireland’s group asked the benefits consultant firm Milliman to estimate how much pediatric dental premiums might change if the coverage provisions of the law were incorporated.

Milliman estimated that premiums currently range from $21 to $25 per child per month, depending on whether a plan covers orthodontia services, among other things. After incorporating the health law’s requirements, Milliman projected that premiums would probably rise to $34 a month, Ireland says.

“That’s a nine-dollar-to-13-dollar-a-month jump, which is a pretty significant increase for a family,” she says.

For more perspective on the effect healthcare reform may have on dental insurance, read Joanne Fontana’s paper entitled “Healthcare reform: What about dental?