The Impact of the Affordable Care Act’s Dependent Coverage Mandate on Use of Dental Treatments and Preventive Services

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Abstract

Background:

Oral health problems are the leading chronic conditions among children and younger adults. Lack of dental coverage is thought to be an important barrier to care but little empirical evidence exists on the causal effect of private dental coverage on use of dental services. We explore the relationship between dental coverage and dental services utilization with an analysis of a natural experiment of increasing private dental coverage stemming from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA)-dependent coverage mandate.

Objectives:

To evaluate whether increased private dental insurance due to the spillover effect of the ACA-dependent coverage health insurance mandate affected utilization of dental services among a group of affected young adults.

Data:

2006–2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys.

Study Design:

We used a difference-in-difference regression approach comparing changes in dental care utilization for 25-year olds affected by the policy to unaffected 27-year olds. We evaluate effects on dental treatments and preventive services

Results:

Compared to 27-year olds, 25-year olds were 8 percentage points more likely to have private dental coverage in the 3 years following the mandate. We do not find compelling evidence that young adults increased their use of preventive dental services in response to gaining insurance. We do find a nearly 5 percentage point increase in the likelihood of dental treatments among 25-year olds following the mandate, an effect that appears concentrated among women.

Conclusions:

Increases in private dental coverage due to the ACA’s-dependent coverage mandate do not appear to be driving significant changes in overall preventive dental services utilization but there is evidence of an increase in restorative care.

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