Study: Half of Lost Dental Insurance Expected to be Permanent

Non-expansion of Medicaid, other factors contribute

A recent study in the August 28 issue of the Journal of Dental Research indicates about half of those who lost dental insurance when they became unemployed due to COVID-19 are expected to remain uninsured. 

Higher rates can be expected in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, along with drops in routine dental exams, a boost in procedures such as tooth extractions that are undergone more often by the uninsured and publicly insured, and an uptick in emergency visits.

“These changes may further affect dental practice as the dental industry resumes care delivery in an uncertain economic and [healthcare] environment,” wrote author Sung Eun Choi, PhD, of the department of oral health policy and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

In August, the unemployment rate was 8.4%, and while this was the fourth consecutive month in which that number decreased, it’s still higher than it was in February right before many states shut down due to COVID-19. In February, the unemployment rate was 3.5%, and 5.8 million were unemployed. 

Dentistry’s recovery has pretty much leveled off at about 80% of pre-COVID-19 levels, and industry experts have been waiting and watching to see exactly how the rising unemployment rate will affect dental practices. They also have been worried about how the pandemic may widen the gaps in care for underserved populations. The COVID-19 pandemic may lead to about one-fifth of Medicaid providers in private practice disenrolling from the program, according to recent data from the ADA’s Health Policy Institute (HPI).

Approximately 47% of those who lost their employer-sponsored dental insurance when they were laid off are expected to remain uninsured, while approximately 45% are likely to enroll in state-based Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

“Losses of employment caused by the COVID-19 [pandemic] in the United States can have countervailing effects on people’s health by impeding access to dental care,” wrote the authors.

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