Washington exchange may bite into dental market

Some of the more smoothly running state-based health insurance exchanges are starting to think about expanding product menus.

Members of the Dental Plan Technical Advisory Committee at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange said they may add adult and family dental products in 2016.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires the public exchanges to offer basic dental and vision benefits for children, and it lets exchanges meet the dental benefits requirement by selling stand-alone dental plans.

Washington state is having its Washington Healthplanfinder exchange site offer dental coverage solely in the form of stand-alone dental coverage. Families with children that use the exchanges to buy health coverage must also buy dental coverage.

Adults can't get dental coverage directly through the exchange.

The exchange staff reported at a recent Washington state exchange dental advisory committee meeting that the state has a huge unmet need for dental coverage. Only 14 percent of its residents lack any form of public or private medical coverage, but 37 percent have no form of dental insurance.

The state exchange enrollment system has been working well, but adding dental would require significant changes to the system, the staff said.

The staff has sketched out a timeline that calls for carriers to begin developing exchange dental plans in mid-2014, carriers to begin submitting exchange dental plan filings to state insurance regulators in February 2015, and open enrollment in adult and family exchange dental plans to start in October 2015.

The advisory panel is looking at questions such as whether the exchange could give users the ability to compare dental plans side by said, and whether the exchange should simply offer a standard family dental plan or also allow the sale of adult-only dental plans. 

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