On election day, Massachusetts voters were asked to approve or reject four ballot questions when casting their votes for Governor and Attorney General. The 2nd ballot question focused on regulating Dental Insurance, which if passed would “require that a dental insurance carrier meet an annual aggregate medical loss ratio for its covered dental benefit plans of 83 percent1” In layman’s terms, this means dental insurers will have to spend at least 83% of premiums on patient care instead of administrative costs, salaries, profits, overhead, etc. The legislation mandates that if an insurance carrier does not meet that 83% minimum requirement, they will have to issue rebates to their customers. It further allows state regulators to veto unprecedented hikes in premiums and requires that carriers are more transparent with their spending allocation.
Prior to election day, Massachusetts did not have a fixed ratio when it came to dental insurance and will soon be the first state in the nation to have a fixed dental insurance ratio. Although MA requires reporting from dental plans, there were no regulations on premiums. The proposed law sets up a protocol similar to what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires of health insurers, where in Massachusetts health insurance carriers must spend at least 85%-88% of premiums on care.
Over 70% of voters voted in favor of regulating dental insurance, the most one-sided response of all four ballot questions. Although at face value regulating dental insurance may seem beneficial for patients, the impacts are not cut-and-dry, and the legislation may affect multiple parties, from consumers to carriers and dentists and practice owners.
Leading up to election day, general reactions about the legislation from dental insurance carriers were negative, while it was supported by most dental practitioners. In fact, the ballot initiative was brought to fruition, in large part, due to an Orthodontist in Somerville. As we can see from the polling results, the general population, or consumers/patients, were also in favor of question #2 passing.
For patients: On the intangible side for patients/consumers, the law would provide some peace of mind that the money they pay for their dental insurance was going, in large part, to their care. There is also an indirect advantage to increased transparency, mitigating the typical confusion that surrounds insurance plans and payments. More tangibly, the change could mean that insurers are willing to cover more procedures as a means to hit their minimum requirement (good), however that could result in dental practitioners charging more (not so good).
For employers: We anticipate that the new law will give employers who sponsor a dental insurance benefit plan more control over pricing and protection against unreasonable rate increases. Since many businesses do not offer a dental plan, or offer it on a voluntary basis, the effects should be relatively small. On the other hand, if the law were to create a change in the number of carriers in the marketplace, this could have an impact on plan and network options and negotiating power.
For dental practitioners: With the change, one perspective is that dental practitioners will be able to better focus on the best care for each patient. They may also see an increase in business and revenue if insurers are allocating more dollars towards care and procedures.
For dental insurance carriers: Dental insurers largely opposed question #2 for obvious reasons, such as restrictions on how much they can charge and additional requirements they need to adhere to, but also for less obvious reasons. For example, some carriers argue that the law will require them to make up for profit loss by raising premiums, warning that they could increase by as much as 38% in the state2. They have reason to believe this law will lead to less competition in the dental insurer marketplace, which typically does not benefit the consumer.
Having worked with Massachusetts employers of all sizes on their benefits, including but not limited to dental insurance, as well as interfacing with insurance carriers, being the broker representative for a large percentage of dental offices in the state and working with MDS, we are looking at this update from all angles. Our expertise and decades of experience in this industry enables us to make the following conjectures about passing of ballot question #2:
- Dental insurance premiums may rise, but at a minimal rate
- We ultimately believe this is a step in the right direction as an advocate both for our employer clients and their employees, and that transparency is a positive attribute largely missing from the healthcare experience today
- Immediate impacts will also be minimal, but we may see some of the other factors mentioned above play out over the next few years
If you have specific questions about how the new law might impact your dental plan(s) or practices, please get in touch. In the meantime, you might be interested in watching our recent webinar, “Why Long COVID Needs Short-Term Attention” as you develop your 2023 benefits strategies.