By Julie Small, KPCC
The state’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, authorized a set of benefits months ago that included dental care for children, but now the marketplace is telling insurance companies to strip out the dental coverage. People would then have to pay extra for a dental plan for their children.
California’s insurance commissioner Dave Jones warns the move could reduce children’s access to dental care and urged Covered California to include the benefit in plans that will be sold when the marketplace formally opens October 1. The change will also drive up costs for consumers, he says.
In a June 27th letter to the board that runs Covered California, Jones says he talked with insurers that originally submitted bids to sell their products on the state’s marketplace and argues dental care is essential. “A child’s overall health and well-being requires access to dental care to ensure oral health,” he wrote.
Covered California is the state’s new health insurance exchange set up as part of the federal health law. It will open Oct. 1 and will be a place where individuals can shop for health insurance which will go into effect Jan. 1. Covered California’s website still shows pediatric dental services as a covered benefit under its health insurance plans. The Affordable Care Act does not require that health plans include dental coverage for children.
Dana Howard, a spokesman for Covered California, argues its move is about consumer flexibility.
“I understand what he’s concerned about, but Covered California likewise is concerned about good dental coverage,” Howard said. The change “is simply to provide more options for the families to have a stand-alone plan, so they can have a broader choice of the networks or the plans that they would wish to have cover their children.”
Howard says they were able to make the change and still offer plans that are affordable. Covered California will offer nine different plans for children ranging in price from $8to $35 a month.
“You have to look at the reason why people don’t buy dental insurance for their children, and we believe we’ve answered that problem.” Howard said.
But at least one major insurer who bid to sell plans on the state’s marketplace told the commissioner it had planned to offer children’s dental for $6 a month as part of a larger package, but will now charge $26 a month for the separate product.
Covered California’s board is expected to sign contracts for health insurance plans this week, in effect locking in the decision to separate children’s dental care.
The six companies selling children’s dental plans on Covered California are Anthem Dental, Blue Shield of California, Delta Dental of California, Health Net Dental, LIBERTY Dental Plan and Premier Access Dental.
Learn more about the federal health law: