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Coverage Matters: The Role of Insurance in Access to Dental Care in California

September 1, 2009

External Publication

Author: Nadereh Pourat, PhD

Dental insurance plays a key role in oral health. However, while dental insurance typically covers preventive services and significantly reduces the costs for services such as fillings, crowns, and dentures, dental benefits often are not comprehensive and come with significant cost-sharing requirements and annual caps, which may lead to unaffordable out-of-pocket expenditures. Moreover, utilization patterns for dental care show evidence of racial and ethnic differences, as well as potential disparities among specific vulnerable populations, such as those with poor dental health, the chronically ill, the unemployed, and people with limited English proficiency.

This issue brief explores the relationship between dental insurance, out-of-pocket spending on dental services, and overall oral health using results from a 2007 survey of Californians by Harris Interactive. The analysis finds that while dental insurance enables people to obtain dental care, it does not remove all financial barriers to needed services. High out-of pocket spending for dental care restricts some people from getting preventive and other necessary services, particularly when dental bills compete with medical or other basic living expenses.

The brief was supported by the California HealthCare Foundation.

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