Dental Care

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Website Brings Discounts, Cost Transparency to Dental Care

(Pepino1976/Flickr)

(Pepino1976/Flickr)

Like health care, dental care matters, too. While about 14 percent of Californians lack health insurance, 39 percent lack dental coverage, according to a 2009 brief from the California HealthCare Foundation.

Even if you have dental insurance, it often has coverage limits and varying levels of out-of-pocket spending requirements that differ from health insurance, as a recent Los Angeles Times report noted:

First, it’s specifically designed to encourage preventive treatment. That’s why most dental plans pay 100 percent for preventive services, such as cleanings, X-rays and checkups. Basic restorative services such as fillings and periodontal cleanings are generally covered at 80 percent, and you’ll commonly get just 50 percent reimbursement for procedures such as implants and crowns.

In addition, they commonly come with low annual maximums that place a cap on what the plan pays toward care — the typical range is $1,000 to $1,500.

Even with coverage, the high cost of dental procedures prevents many people from seeking care. In a recent study of Los Angeles residents conducted by Empirica Research, 51 percent with dental insurance say they’ve delayed care because of cost. That number jumps to 68 percent among those without coverage.

Now, a new website, Brighter.com, has launched a free (to consumers) service to help connect people with dentists — at a discount. “The mission was to provide quality, affordable care to everyone,” said Jake Winebaum, Brighter’s CEO. “Brighter is the first marketplace where dentists are competing for patients based on quality, price and convenience.” Continue reading

California Prepares for Children’s Dental Insurance Mandate

By Laird Harrison

More people may get dental care in Calfornia when the Affordable Care Act is implemented. (heraldpost/Flickr)

More people may get dental care in Calfornia when the Affordable Care Act is implemented. (heraldpost/Flickr)

If you know anything about the Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — you know that it will require everyone to get medical coverage by January 1, 2014.

But did you know that the act could also require millions of families to buy dental benefits for their children?

The dental mandate, if you want to call it that, is indirect and incomplete. Parents who are determined to avoid it can find loopholes. And much depends on regulations that state and federal authorities are still hashing out.

But preliminary estimates show that some five million children nationwide and as many as 1.5 million Californians could gain extensive new dental benefits.

Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act says, all medical plans sold to small groups (100 people or fewer) or individuals must include a set of “essential benefits,” and these benefits must include “pediatric services, including oral and vision care.”

In California, the benefits will be pretty extensive. The state has decided to base them on its Healthy Families dental program. Continue reading

How Many Dentists Accept Children on Medi-Cal? Depends on Who You Ask

New report says one in four dentists accept state’s Denti-Cal insurance; older reports say closer to two-thirds

By Emily Bazar, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

(Paul Goyette/Flickr)

(Paul Goyette/Flickr)

I’ve spent many months reporting on dental care for poor California children, looking into what kind of access they have to treatment.

(About half of kids in the Medi-Cal dental program see a dentist annually, although figures vary wildly by county.)

But I haven’t focused as much on the dentists who participate in the program, called Denti-Cal.

A new report by health care consultant Barbara Aved does just that. Based on her research, Aved concludes that 25 percent of California’s general dentists participate in the program.

Why not more? Here are some of Aved’s primary conclusions, based in part on a survey of dentists in five counties that she says reflect California as a whole. Out of about 2,000 general and pediatric dentists invited to participate, 322 responded.

  • Of dentists who do not participate, 97 percent cited the state’s low reimbursement rates as the No. 1 reason. California’s rates, Aved said, are among the lowest in the nation.

“Unlike physician practices, dental practices are in large part solo or two-person practices,” she said. “It’s really like a small business. Economically, it just doesn’t make sense to do business where you’re not going to be fully reimbursed.” Continue reading