It has never made sense to me to that dental insurance is not included in comprehensive medical insurance. Maybe it’s because dental care was originally seen as mainly cosmetic or because dentists aren’t medical doctors. I suspect there’s also concern about adding dental insurance to medical coverage due to the added cost. In any case, it’s become increasingly clear that oral health and overall health are closely linked, and that at least in targeted populations it’s pennywise and pound foolish not to emphasize dental care.
A newly published large scale study demonstrated that Type II diabetics who receive periodontal treatment have medical costs that are lower by $1,814 per year compared to the control group. The savings held up over the three-year scope of the study. The concept is that oral infections worsen a patient’s diabetes; treating the infection improves the diabetes. From Health Leaders:
The study’s release coincided with United Concordia launch of a diabetes-specific program that provides 100% coverage for surgical procedures, other treatments, and maintenance for patients with gum disease.
“This is the most statistically conclusive study proving the relationship between oral health and medical cost savings. The savings are just the start of what is to come,” United Concordia COO/President F.G. “Chip” Merkel told reporters. “We believe that employers will realize reduced medical costs when their employees with diabetes receive appropriate periodontal care.”
Merkel suggests that a targeted approach to dental coverage would go a long way.
“The thought is you don’t need to cover everybody in the population,” he says. “The better thing to do is cover those targeted populations where we can show savings and where we know an intervention program of information and assistance will help them get in and get the treatment they need.”
I don’t doubt that the study sponsors have a commercial goal in mind, but it seems to me the idea of expanding dental coverage, especially for populations like diabetics, is a smart thing to do.
David Williams blogs regularly at the Health Business Blog.