Covered CA delays dental benefits

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Adults hoping to purchase dental insurance through Covered California will have to wait until at least next year because of problems with the health exchange's computer system.

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"We do not anticipate there will be adult dental added in 2015. We're looking at that in 2016," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.

Officials for the exchange originally announced in August a plan to offer dental coverage for adults and families that could be bought separately from health plans.

The dental policies were expected to be available during the open-enrollment period. Covered California attributed its decision not to offer the dental plans after all this year to "challenges in aligning a family dental enrollment" within the existing online registration system.

Dental coverage for patients up to 19 years old is one of the 10 essential health benefits that insurance policies are required to provide under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Such benefits are included in health plans offered on the exchange this year, and therefore can be subsidized with tax credits depending on an enrollee's income.

Even though Covered California officials ultimately called off dental policies for adults this year, five companies were preparing to sell such plans through the exchange. That would have allowed consumers to compare those providers' prices compared with rates for dental policies outside of the exchange — and might have prompted more people to sign up for dental coverage.

The delay is a "missed opportunity," said Jeff Album, vice president of public and government affairs for Delta Dental, one of the companies that had intended to offer coverage.

"Delta Dental has urged Covered California to offer standalone pediatric and adult dental coverage from the very inception of the (Affordable Care Act," Album said. "So naturally, we were very disappointed to learn that for the second year in a row, (the Covered California web portal) is unable to offer family dental plans, as most other states have been doing since 2014."

Carrie Stoermer, 37, a freelance copy editor in Bonsall, recently lost medical and dental insurance that was extended through her husband's employer. She was able to purchase a health plan through Covered California, but the exchange's announcement about dental benefits has presented a challenge for her.

Stoermer has looked for private dental insurance, but hasn't been satisfied with what she has found.

"Since the plans I have seen so far have a six-month waiting period before you can use your benefits, I may as well wait until Covered California offers a more affordable option and pay out of pocket in the meantime," she said. "Had I known (earlier) "I would have seen a dentist before my previous coverage ended."

Will the computer issues be worked out in time for open enrollment next year?

"Covered California is confident the challenges can be overcome," said Roy Kennedy, a spokesman for the exchange. "We're committed to the family dental offering and it being an option for the 2016 plan year."