Children's Dental Care: Time for a 21st Century Solution
Nation's largest dental benefits provider weighs in on Health Care Reform
OAK BROOK, Ill. (Nov. 14, 2011) - The government spends more than $400 million annually on research into dental disease. Why not capitalize on that knowledge when diagnosing and treating children? That's a question being posed by Delta Dental to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during regional meetings to discuss development of the Affordable Care Act's essential health benefits.
The nation's largest dental benefits carrier is urging government officials to take advantage of advances in diagnostic and preventive services when implementing the new health care reform law.
"Oral disease is the most common and the most preventable disease among children," said Delta Dental President and CEO Kim Volk. "That's why Congress made a special point of requiring all health plans to cover children's oral health when it passed the Affordable Care Act. But unless the federal government makes it clear how that's supposed to work, children will be getting the same level of dental care as their grandparents did a half-century ago."
Under the new health law, all Americans will be entitled to an "essential health benefit"—including children's dental care—through their insurance coverage. The task falls to federal officials to determine exactly what services that benefit should include.
"The basic dental benefit has evolved little over the last 50 years," said William Kohn, DDS, Delta Dental's vice president for dental science and policy. During testimony at an October 25 listening session sponsored by HHS, Kohn encouraged government officials to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the new law by bringing children's dental care into the 21st century. "Using the framework of a typical commercial plan, the way dentists deliver critical diagnostic and preventive services to children can be enhanced with evidence-based science," Kohn said.
Delta Dental and other stakeholders gave HHS officials a sample benefit plan to use as a model. The dental benefit relies on risk-assessments to tailor the benefit so that the appropriate diagnostic and preventive care is provided to all children, based upon their risk for developing dental disease. As studies have demonstrated, directing more preventive services to children at high risk, and less to those who are not, will lead to better outcomes and lower costs.
"A science-based children's dental benefit would encourage the right care to the right patient at the right time," Kohn said. "The benefit should be updated periodically and tracked with quality and performance measures."
In his statement, Kohn also called for transparency in benefit offerings. He said dental benefits should be separately offered and priced from a family's medical policy, so that consumers can compare price and services. This recommendation is consistent with what parents say they want. In a recent nationwide study of parents and caregivers commissioned by Delta Dental, 77 percent of respondents said they would like more options rather than fewer when it comes to shopping for a dental plan for their family.1
About Delta Dental Plans Association
The not-for-profit Delta Dental Plans Association (www.deltadental.com) represents 39 independent Delta Dental member companies operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. As the nation's largest dental benefits provider, Delta Dental serves more than 56 million Americans in more than 95,000 employee groups. In 2010, Delta Dental member companies donated more than $48 million throughout the country to support programs that focus on preventing dental disease, expanding access to care, advancing dental science and understanding the connections between oral and overall health.
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1Morpace Inc. conducted the 2011 Delta Dental Children's Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted by email nationally with 907 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is +-3.25 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.