Bipartisan Bill Aims to Give Consumers More Dental Insurance Options

Insurers say current law restricts the number of choices some consumers have when shopping for healthcare.

Dental insurers are putting a major push behind a bill they say would expand consumers’ ability to shop around for dental coverage.

The bill, S-3244, was introduced last week by Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat. It has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

The bill is dubbed the “Aligning Children’s Dental Coverage Act.” Proponents say it would clear up confusion about whether certain insurance customers can buy standalone dental coverage for their children.

Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, health plans are required to offer coverage for pediatric dental care. Health insurance plans sold on state or federal healthcare exchanges can satisfy the requirement by incorporating dental coverage into the health plan, or by offering dental coverage as a standalone option.

However, the healthcare reform law isn’t clear about whether health insurers who sell coverage outside of the state and federal marketplaces have the same flexibility when it comes to meeting the pediatric dental coverage requirement. As a result, insurers and employers must navigate a range of state regulations and market conditions, which in some areas leave consumers with little or no choice of dental plans.

The “Aligning Children’s Dental Coverage Act” aims to fix the situation by allowing consumers to access the same dental care options regardless of where they get their health insurance.

"The Senate and House legislation offers a simple, but crucial solution to ensure that families across the nation continue to have the access they need and the choices they deserve in obtaining dental benefits," said Jason Daughn, vice president of government relations for Delta Dental Plans Association, in a press release.

Delta Dental said the change makes sense, since about 99% of Americans purchase their dental insurance separately from their health insurance. The legislation has the support of a number of business groups, including the American Supply Association, the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, the National Retail Federation, and the Small Business and Entrepreneurial Council.

In an April letter to a committee discussing the House version of the bill, a coalition of business groups (including those named above) said the current system is confusing and untenable.

“Without this clarification, small businesses must contend with the confusion of two differing standards for how dental coverage is offered

one inside and one outside the Marketplaces,” the groups wrote.

The House version of the bill, HR 3463, was introduced in September but is still in committee.