Dentists and other dental health professionals are checking out some of the newest ideas and equipment at the Vermont Dental Society annual meeting. But Vermont's new health care exchange will not mean much is new when it comes to patients getting dental coverage.
"There is an opportunity for states to make a difference," said Dr. Robert Faiella, the president of the American Dental Association.
Faiella wishes Vermont's exchange required health plans to have dental coverage for adults. The federal Affordable Care Act requires all state health exchanges to have dental coverage for kids. But state officials opted to leave adult dental care out.
Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson says requiring adult dental in Vermont's exchange could have cost taxpayers $40 million.
"We know that dental coverage and oral health are important to Vermonters and important to their health. We were put in a position by the Affordable Care Act that if we were to require adult dental coverage as part of the plans sold through Vermont Health Connect that the state would have to pay the entire cost," Larson said.
The Affordable Care Act says exchanges requiring adult dental cannot pass that cost onto patient premiums, meaning state taxpayers would pick up the tab. It's something Massachusetts chose to pay for when it built its exchange seven years ago.
"The Massachusetts experience through health care reform in 2006 shows that providing adult dental benefits in that exchange made a significant impact for poor, non-elderly adults, in terms of their dental utilization and overall health," Faiella said.
Faiella is also a former president of the Massachusetts Dental Society. He says Vermont could learn from the increased treatment patients received in Massachusetts. It went up 11 percent.
"Patients are struggling with the economy, trying to find a foothold in recovery and we need to make a difference in their lives by providing benefits to them," Faiella said.
Vermonters will be able to buy dental coverage through the new exchange Vermont Health Connect. But those plans will be separate from their health plans and there will not be financial assistance paying for them the way there is for general health plans.
Larson says the exchange is expanding dental and vision coverage to all Vermonters under 21. Kids who had Dr. Dynasaur had those before, but kids with private insurance often did not. And Larson says adult dental coverage will be up for discussion again as Vermont starts work on transitioning to single-payer health care in 2017.
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