The Latest | Southern California breaking news and trends

California health exchange plans will include children’s dental care in 2015

More than a million California children lack dental insurance coverage.
More than a million California children lack dental insurance coverage.
Julie Small/KPCC

The board of Covered California declined Thursday to make changes to children’s dental coverage that will be offered to the public starting Oct. 1. Instead, the state's health insurance exchange will focus on improving coverage in 2015 — the second year of the program.

The decision came after Covered California's staff decided not to include children's dental care in medical plans that are mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Families can purchase standalone plans outside the exchange. But health advocates complained the exchange’s approach will cost consumers more than it should.

Child health care advocates packed Thursday's hearing in Sacramento to urge Covered California’s board to add health care plans that include dental care for kids in the first year of the program. Advocates argued that doing so would make many buyers eligible for federal subsidies.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones submitted a letter to the board warning some parents could pay up to 400 times more for children's dental care.

At the meeting, Deputy Insurance Commissioner Janice Rocco insisted the exchange could make a last-minute solicitation to insurance companies to offer pediatric dental coverage as part of comprehensive medical plans.

“It’s more affordable, which means more families will have the coverage, which means children’s health will be improved,” Rocco said.

But Leesa Tori of the Covered California staff told the crowd: “There’s no silver bullet for 2014.”

Tori cited technical restrictions of the computer program that's been built to sell policies to the public and the reluctance of insurance providers to make a change so close to the launch of the exchange.

Several representatives from professional dental associations said children’s oral health will suffer unless parents are mandated to purchase dental insurance.

The California Society of Pediatric Dentistry reports that tooth decay is the most prevalent childhood disease. More children miss school because of dental pain than any other reason. That’s why pediatric dental care is considered an essential health benefit in the Affordable Care Act.