No Interest In Dental Care On Exchange

Just Six Enrolled in Northeast Delta Dental Since Oct. 1

After almost four weeks, six people have purchased dental insurance on the new federal insurance marketplace in New Hampshire, according to Northeast Delta Dental, the only company selling plans on the site.

As of next year, all Americans are supposed to have health insurance, or face a tax penalty. Federal health care reform, commonly called Obamacare, is intended to expand access to health insurance. The marketplaces are websites where people are supposed to be able to shop for plans and find out if they qualify for tax credits toward the expense of the premiums.

Buying dental insurance there is optional, but that alone probably isn’t responsible for the low pickup since the site opened Oct. 1, said Jodie Hittle, vice president of sales and marketing for Northeast Delta Dental, which sells plans in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

“We decided to be on the exchange for mission reasons and for strategy reasons,” Hittle said. “We wanted to be there from the beginning in case they do take off in any meaningful ways. Once they resolve the issues, we may see an uptick, but our marketing strategy really revolves around off-marketplace plans.”

Roughly 4,000 people have bought individual or family plans directly from the company this year, he said.

Many states, including New Hampshire, declined to build their own marketplace websites, and are instead connected to the glitch-prone and slow federal site.

“We really didn’t know, candidly, what to expect (from the marketplace), but it’s lower than what we had anticipated, for sure,” Hittle said, noting especially that only two of the six plans sold cover children, a specific goal of the health care reform law.

When lawmakers wrote the Obamacare bill, health advocates pushed hard, and succeeded, in having children’s access to dental care included as an essential health benefit, one of 10 areas that must be covered by all plans sold to individuals or small groups.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic health problem in children: By the time they enter kindergarten, more than a quarter of kids have decay in their baby teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The changes required by the health law apply specifically to children who get coverage through private plans and don’t affect the dental services for children covered by Medicaid.

Children’s dental plans on the marketplace can’t have annual or lifetime caps on coverage, and the law limits the out-of-pocket costs a person could face on top of their premium payments.

The cost for the pediatric dental plans range from $30.09 per month, with a deductible of $150, with all diagnostic and preventive care covered at 100 percent and basic restorative care covered at 60 percent. The most a person purchasing that plan would pay above the premium is $700, Hittle said.

A higher-premium plan costs $38.30 per month and covers 80 percent of the cost of basic restorative care. The deductible on that plan is $50.

Major restorative surgery and medically necessary orthodontia are covered at 50 percent, Hittle said.

The adult dental plans Northeast Delta Dental is selling on the marketplace are more like traditional plans, he said.

Both the high- and low-premium options have a $1,000 annual coverage maximum, meaning the company will only pay up to that amount during the plan year.

The low-premium plan costs $30.91 monthly; the high-premium plan costs $43.40 monthly, he said.

Premiums for the plans the company is selling directly to consumers range from $25.87 to $49.98 monthly, he said.