Thousands of California adults are signing up for dental insurance offered for the first time by California’s health insurance exchange, Covered California, officials said Wednesday.
About 33,000 adults have signed up for the dental plans, including about 6,000 who also are signing up for health insurance on the exchange for the first time, said Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director.
While dental coverage for children under age 19 is considered an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act and is included in their health insurance plans, that’s not the case for adults. Most of the nation’s state-run health exchanges now offer separate dental plans serving adults and the federally run exchange also offers adult dental coverage.
Covered California is the second to last among the state-run exchanges to offer dental coverage for adults, said Jeff Album, a Delta Dental executive. Now only Washington state does not offer it.
In California, adults must purchase a health plan on the state’s exchange to be able to purchase an “add-on” dental policy, and they’ll pay monthly premiums ranging from $11 to $65, Lee said. These premiums are not subsidized like Covered California’s health premiums for lower-income people, but the dental plans can’t turn anyone away for pre-existing conditions.
The dental plans are optional and there’s no tax penalty for not enrolling in them.
Open enrollment in the state exchange’s health and dental plans started Nov. 1 and ends Jan. 31, and people who sign up by Dec. 15 can have their benefits start on January 1. Lee said Wednesday that 34,000 new consumers had selected a health insurance plan through the exchange since open enrollment began.
About 1.3 million Californians, including about 66,000 age 18 or younger, already had health insurance through the exchange before open enrollment started.
Covered California’s new dental plans are offered by Access Dental Plan, Anthem Blue Cross of California, Delta Dental of California, Dental Health Services and Premier Access. Delta Dental has signed up 23,000 of the 33,000 people who’ve purchased dental policies so far, Album said.
All of the plans will offer free preventive and diagnostic dental services for both adults and children. Consumers can choose from dental health maintenance organizations, which typically cost less but have more restricted networks of dentists, or dental preferred provider organizations, which offer more choice but higher out-of-pocket costs. Parents do not have to enroll their children in a family dental plan, because their dental coverage is included in their health plan. But some may choose to do so to gain extra coverage.
Dr. Ariane Terlet, a Berkeley dentist who serves as chief dental officer for Oakland-based La Clinica de la Raza and as a trustee for the California Dental Association, said that people without dental insurance are four times more likely to not get preventive care. Many Californians have found it difficult to buy dental coverage on the individual market and the new availability of Covered California’s dental plans expands access to care, she added.
“There isn’t a week that goes by where people don’t ask me what dental coverage is available for individuals,” Terlet said. “Having insurance is a critical step to improving dental care. This is really going to help a lot of people improve their health.”