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A Win For Patients with Dental Coverage

Op-Ed Submitted to CTNewsJunkie.

Just as our state legislature has embarked upon its return to in-person operations, countless individuals are making the decision to catch up on in-person health care appointments, including visits to the dentist’s office. While 93% of adults in Connecticut agree that regular dental visits are central to their overall health, as many as 46% cite costs as their main reason for avoiding care – regardless of their age, income, or insurance status. A new state law, Public Act No. 21-187, will help reduce these financial barriers that keep patients from seeking care.

Prior to Public Act No. 21-187, insurance companies had free rein to “lease” dentists to a different insurance network without the dentist’s knowledge or consent, significantly impacting the insurance benefits available to their patients and the dentist’s ability to provide accurate cost estimates for care. This reform will expand transparency and provide an opportunity for dentists to accept or refuse being leased, enforcing basic fairness while reducing occurrences of surprise bills for patients following a procedure. Connecticut is now one of 24 states with this type of law.

As a part of continued efforts to protect patients by improving access to dental care and the value of dental insurance, our team at the Connecticut State Dental Association successfully advocated for this law, which will regulate the practice of network leasing. This effort was made possible in part by a dedicated, bipartisan group of legislators, including Representative Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, and Senator Matt Lesser, D-Middletown.

This win for patients is a part of a national push for Dental Insurance Reform aimed at maximizing the value of dental coverage for patients. People often opt out of or postpone getting dental care because of confusing or inadequate coverage, which has a negative, trickle-down effect on personal and public health.  Patients buy dental insurance thinking it will help them only to find that, in many cases, it doesn’t make care affordable, doesn’t cover needed procedures and commonplace insurance practices make reliability and anticipating the cost of care next to impossible.

Connecticut dentists are advocating for a broader “Dental Bill of Rights,” including this network leasing law, as an innovative legislative solution designed to make dental insurance more transparent for patients. Other proposals within the Dental Bill of Rights include consumer protections that prevent insurance companies from walking back promises made to patients and ensure that their monthly premiums go to actual dental care rather than administrative expenses or profit.

Navigating the health care system is complex enough. Patients don’t need further red tape to deter them from pursuing the dental care they need to stay healthy. In 2021 alone, 11 states passed 13 new laws aimed solely at putting power back in the hands of the patient.

Advocates across the political spectrum agree that patients and their providers deserve a better dental insurance structure that prioritizes patients and removes financial uncertainties. Dentists across our state are eager to continue collaborating with legislators on policy solutions to help patients better understand their dental insurance, use the coverage more effectively and improve oral health.

Dr. Annemarie DeLessio-Matta is the president of the Connecticut State Dental Association and has a pediatric dental practice in Southbury, CT.

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