June 10, 2010

Many Americans Lack Dental Insurance

A government report released on Wednesday reveals that an estimated 45 million Americans do not have dental insurance, and the healthcare reform bill recently passed does little to help.

Most adults who already have private health coverage also have a dental plan, but nearly 70 percent of those who have to buy their own health policy do not, according to the report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Under the new health reforms passed in March, adults must buy health insurance or pay a fine starting in 2014. The law does not require them to purchase other types of policies like dental or vision, although some health care plans include the additional coverage.

Health plans must cover services like emergency care and prescription drugs, but do not have to offer oral care for adults. Dental care for children is required. Some advocates pushed for wider dental plans in the bill, pointing to the higher impact of oral health on conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

About 75 percent of the 172 million adults in America under the age of 65 already have dental plans in their private health insurance, mostly through employers, said the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

The survey found that among those with dental health coverage, a third had a comprehensive plan with dental coverage, while 36 percent had a stand-alone plan. 14 percent had both. Among those with employer-sponsored care, just 20 percent lacked a dental plan.

Researchers found a direct link between income and access to care. The higher a person's income, the more likely they were to have dental coverage.

Roughly 90 million Americans get health care through Medicare and state-based Medicaid, which do not offer dental care for adults.

It is not clear how the new healthcare law will affect the dental insurance industry. Like its health insurance counterpart, the sector lobbied against any government-run health program while looking at ways to boost funding for dental care under Medicaid.

Medicaid, which serves 45 million low-income persons, pays for dental care for those under 21 years of age, but patients can have trouble finding dentists who accept Medicaid. A separate government program, the Children's Health Insurance Program, also provides dental care.

Older Americans can buy separate dental plans from insurers, which include Aetna Inc, Cigna Corp, Humana Inc, and Assurant Inc, according to the Association for Health Insurance Plans, which represents about 80 percent of all U.S. dental insurance plans.

Most Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, MetLife, and Principal Financial Group Inc also offer dental coverage, the industry's lobby group told Reuters.


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