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Washington State Dental Association

What's the Future for Dental Insurance? John Barrett, DDS

In other posts I have said that I think dental insurance is becoming irrelevant but I have not said what I think that means for the future. I don’t think dental insurance should or will go away completely. I believe in the future, the value of dental insurance will be to make it easy for people to get preventive care thus providing for fundamental hygiene and diagnostic procedures. Most care beyond that will be purchased out of pocket by the patients. Getting them in the chair provides them with the opportunity to learn what is happening in their mouths and what ought to and can be done about it.

The handwriting is on the wall as I see it. By lowering their standards, WDS, up until now THE pre-eminent leader in dental prepayment is affirming this concept, but by trying to force all dentists to deliver expensive care without adequate compensation it is bringing about a paradigm shift among patients, dentists, and following that, employers who must realize that there is not enough will or incentive for group plans to provide coverage for comprehensive dental care in the face of other rising costs.

In the aftermath of TV makeover shows that gave our population a heightened awareness and appreciation of healthy smiles, and in the wake of the heyday of dental insurance that bought dental health for so many people, we find that the dental IQ of people even in our rural community is elevated to the point that creates the desire in most of them for quality dental care and healthy outcomes. For many of them, if we can help them find the way to afford it, they will opt for the dental procedures they need and indeed many will seek out procedures they just want that they think will make them look better and feel better about themselves.

It may be true that in bad economic times, usage will go down and everyone has to be more creative to facilitate healthy decisions. It’s even possible we may need to discount our fees for some or all of our patients at certain times. The marketplace will tell us if that is necessary, not WDS!

I don’t think it’s naive to believe that most people will still opt for high quality dental care rather than shortcuts that lead to worse dental conditions and other health problems just because their dental insurance won’t pay for needed care. I’m betting that we’ve taught them enough and they are sophisticated enough to understand what’s at stake for them if they let their dental health lapse just because WDS and the large employers in our state want to gut the dental insurance plans that helped these entities grow to virtual monopolies.

While these times are frustrating and unnerving, after lots of thought I’m glad to say I can still be optimistic towards this profession I am so passionate about. Personally I am in the twilight of my practice and this fight won’t have so great an impact on me, but the future of dentistry is important to me because my career has brought me more satisfaction and reward than I ever could have dreamed. It’s important to me to do what I can to help the dental profession to retain that creative atmosphere that allows well-trained caring individuals to provide good healthy outcomes for growing numbers of patients in our communities.

-John Barrett, DDS

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