Dental plan trade groups are hoping statistics concerning the importance of dental care and dental benefits will help improve their position in the health reform debate.
The National Association of Dental Plans, Dallas, recently released results from a survey that compares U.S. residents who have dental benefits to the 143 million U.S. residents who have none.
The Delta Dental Plans Association, Oak Brook, Ill., which represents a group of nonprofit dental carriers, has posted a collection of position papers and fact sheets at www.advanceoralhealth.com, to make the case that addressing oral health in federal health care reform legislation is important–and that federal policymakers should remember that “the dental delivery system itself remains vastly different from medical in many key respects.”
Some dentists have criticized the plans’ efforts to influence the views of policymakers, contending that the plans themselves drive up costs and hurt the quality of care by weakening the bonds between dentists and patients.
Groups representing dentists are mobilizing their own information lobbying efforts.
The Academy of General Dentistry, Chicago, has posted a position paper on access that briefly objects to the idea of health insurers pushing patients to choose cheaper, possibly lower-quality care.
In March, the American Dental Association, Chicago, convened a summit on improving access to dental care. One conclusion was that advocacy groups need to find “better ways to define and measure the access issue,” the group says.
Dental plan association representatives say they already have statistics that suggest that access to dental benefits has a strong correlation with indicators of oral health and overall physical health.
U.S. residents without dental benefits tend to be poorer, less educated and less health conscious in general than residents with dental benefits, and that complicates efforts to separate causes from effects.
But the NADP, which reached 6,000 consumers through the Web, found that consumers without dental benefits were less likely to take even routine, low-cost steps to tend to their own dental health. Only 53% of the survey participants without dental benefits said they brush their teeth two or more times per day, compared with 63% of the participants with dental benefits, and only 60% of the participants without benefits said they floss at least once per week, compared with 70% of the participants with benefits.
About 15% of the participants without dental benefits described their overall health as fair or poor, and 21% said they had had a tooth extracted within the previous 2 years.
Only 9% of the insured participants described their overall health as fair or poor, and only 16% had had a tooth extracted within the previous 2 years.
“The choice is to have dental benefits now and to focus on prevention and to get people to the dentist, or to pay for the complications of dental disease later on,” says Evelyn Ireland, NADP executive director.
Ireland cites the flurry of recent formal studies that appear to show that improving dental care can improve overall medical care. One shows that providing extra dental care for patients with gum disease and diabetes correlates with a 19% reduction in the cost of treating the patients’ diabetes, Ireland says.
“Dental is really an essential part of a benefits package,” Ireland says.