Dentist blog from Delta Dental

Tag: COVID-19 (Page 1 of 7)

Your dental policy brief: News updates as of June 10

From court rulings to new legislation that could affect your practice, FYI brings you the latest dental policy developments.

More than 3 million could lose insurance if ARPA tax credits expire, study finds

Health premiums will rise, health care spending will decrease by as much as $11.4 billion and more than 3 million people could become uninsured if Congress does not extend the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) subsidies, according to a new study released by the Urban Institute.

Originally passed in 2021 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ARPA increased premium tax credits for Affordable Care Act (ACA) health plans, drawing many more Americans into state health exchanges, where many in turn purchased optional adult dental coverage. Currently under the ARPA, the full cost of COBRA premiums for medical, pediatric dental and vision are subsidized for individuals who qualify after involuntary termination or reduction of hours. Without the ARPA COBRA subsidy, qualifying individuals must pay those premiums themselves, and many once purchasing optional adult dental would likely drop such coverage.

Delta Dental–sponsored bill allows for electronic communications with group opt-in

On May 2, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law Georgia House Bill 1308, sponsored by Delta Dental Insurance Company. The legislation allows plan sponsors to consent to electronic mailings on behalf of their employees if certain criteria are met, including that the plan sponsor routinely uses electronic communications with their employees and the option to opt-out of electronic delivery is available to all employees at any time. The legislation applies to health benefit plans and dental and vision carriers licensed to do business in Georgia.  Supporters of the law hope that employer-based “opt-in” protocols can help ensure more consumers receive their documents faster and at lower cost, making for a better overall patient-provider experience.

Biden administration blocks Georgia’s attempt to privatize ACA

President Joe Biden’s administration is blocking Gov. Kemp’s attempt to privatize the state’s Affordable Care Act program. Kemp had planned to bypass and have residents shop for federally subsidized health insurance through private agents. The move could breach federal rules on insurance waivers and cause too many people to drop coverage, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Dental hygienist’s medical marijuana case could reach Supreme Court

A Minnesota dental hygienist is petitioning the Supreme Court to rule on her medical marijuana case. The hygienist, Susan K. Musta, began purchasing cannabis to treat chronic pain due to work-related injuries in 2019 under Minnesota’s legal medical cannabis program and was not reimbursed for it under her workers’ compensation coverage for workplace injuries. Minnesota courts ruled that the federal Controlled Substances Act prevented her insurer from paying for medical cannabis, but the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the New Jersey Supreme Court reached opposite conclusions in similar cases, prompting Musta and her lawyers to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

The dental office and mental health: what you need to know

Dentistry can be a stressful and challenging profession. Teams like yours can often face depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. For Mental Health Awareness Month this May, take some time to get a closer look at why many dentists and their staff face mental health problems and what you can do to improve overall well-being in your office.

Dentistry and mental health

The percent of dentists diagnosed with anxiety more than tripled in 2021 compared to 2003, according to the 2021 Dentist Health and Well-Being Survey Report from the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA also found 13% of the dentists reported that they suffered from depression, while it’s estimated that only 3.8% of the general population is affected.

The challenging, demanding work of a dentist’s office can affect the well-being not just of dentists but of office staff, as well. Dentistry can be an especially stressful profession because dentists and their staff often:

  • Work in isolation in confined, small, sometimes windowless spaces
  • Deal with time constraints, economic challenges and other business-related pressures, many of which have only worsened with the advent of COVID-19
  • Perform stressful procedures on a sensitive part of the body with no room for error
  • Deal with long working hours and a heavy workload
  • Face an unfavorable public perception of dentists and dentistry
  • Work with patients who may loathe or resent visiting the office
  • Provide care for others on a day-to-day basis and may not be as accustomed to caring for themselves
  • Are often high achievers who may view reaching out for help as a sign of weakness or failure

Know the signs

As a dentist, you’re trained to identify oral pathology by clinical evidence, diagnostic testing and a patient’s own account. But identifying mental health problems can be very different. Signs related to mental health issues are most often manifested as behavioral changes or they’re experienced internally by the affected individual in the way he or she thinks and feels.

Common signs and symptoms of someone dealing with depression, anxiety or other common mental health issues include:

  • Behavior that is uncharacteristically sad, irritable, critical, indecisive or disorganized
  • Reduced productivity or frequent absence from work
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other pleasurable activities
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and other social activities
  • Expressions of negativity or feeling “helpless,” “burned out,” “lost” or “hopeless”
  • Frequent complaints of tiredness, headaches, stomach problems, back pain or other aches and pains
  • Changes in sleep, such as insomnia or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight or diet, such as eating more or less than usual
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

These symptoms may increase in severity and frequency over time. In advanced cases, affected individuals may lose their ability to support the team and function in the office.

What you can do

Raise awareness and reduce the stigma

Make sure you and your staff can talk openly about problems and reach out for help without negative judgment. As an office leader, you can model this behavior by talking openly and honestly about stress and problems you may be experiencing. Remember that your colleagues and staff could be experiencing similar issues, so openly sharing can be comforting and encouraging. If you don’t suffer from mental health problems, work to be empathic and supportive of those who do.

Resources and assistance should be available and accessible, and using them should never threaten someone’s job or reputation. Consider adding an employee assistance program (EAP) to the offered benefits at your practice if you haven’t already.

Take care of your emotional health

Here are some tips for self-care during stressful times:

  • Take care of your body. Try to exercise regularly, eat well-balanced meals and get enough sleep. Limit your alcohol intake and avoid tobacco and other drugs.
  • Connect with others. Share your concerns about how you’re feeling with a friend or family member. It’s important to maintain a strong social support system and to build healthy relationships during difficult times.
  • Take breaks and vacations. Allow yourself time to unwind and engage in activities you enjoy.
  • Seek help. If stress is impacting your life and work, don’t be afraid to seek out help from others when you need it.

Know where to turn for help

The following free resources can help promote mental health in the dental office:

Other mental health resources include:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). Provides 24/7 free, confidential support for people in distress as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.
  • NAMI. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides advocacy, education, support and public awareness to individuals and families affected by mental illness.  
  • SAMHSA. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. Their resources include a helpline at 800-985-5990.

The mind, just like the mouth, requires constant care. Optimal mental health is a crucial part of your practice success and your overall well-being. Don’t neglect mental well-being in your office or feel shame or stigma about needing to reach out for help.

Your dental policy brief: News updates as of April 6

From the latest on COVID vaccines and policy to new laws that could affect your practice, FYI brings you the biggest dental policy stories.

Millions of children could lose coverage when Medicaid requirement expires

Children in the U.S. currently insured through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have had stability in their coverage during the COVID-19 public health emergency due to a continuous coverage requirement mandated by Congress in March of 2020. This protection is likely to expire sometime in 2022, perhaps as soon as April. The Georgetown University Health Policy Institute estimates that at least 6.7 million children are likely to lose their Medicaid coverage, including dental care, and are at considerable risk for becoming uninsured.

ADA releases new resource for masking

In March, the American Dental Association (ADA) released Indoor Masking in Dental Practice Public Spaces, a new resource to guide dental practices in light of the latest masking recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC indicated in February that communities should now take into account new COVID-19 hospitalizations, hospital capacity and new COVID-19 cases to determine risk level and masking requirements in shared spaces. The ADA resource outlines steps dental practices can follow to align their practice with CDC recommendations.

Lawmakers in New York consider health benefits for uninsured immigrants

New York lawmakers are considering expanding the state’s Essential Plan, which offers free or inexpensive health insurance to low-income citizens, to cover undocumented immigrants. The program includes preventive care, prescription drugs and vision and dental benefits. The expansion would follow the lead of California and Illinois, which have recently offered health insurance to older low-income undocumented residents, but New York would be the first state to offer such coverage regardless of age. An estimated 46,000 people in New York who are currently ineligible for public health care programs due to immigration status would gain access to health insurance coverage, including dental benefits, under the proposed legislation.

Pandemic disproportionately affects women dentists’ income

While all dentists’ incomes took a hit during the height of COVID pandemic, women fared far more poorly than men did, according to research by the American Dental Association. These finding serve as yet another reminder that while women are making many gains in the dental profession, equal pay so far isn’t among them.

A research brief from the ADA’s Health Policy Institute (HPI) found that female dentists’ salaries in 2020 decreased by 12 percentage points more than their male counterparts’ salaries did. Women dentists’ net income also dropped significantly more than men’s did, with a 27% drop for women compared to only 15% for men the same period.

Why was there such a large difference? One of the reasons for the disparity was a much larger decline in hours worked by women dentists than by men during 2020. The study found that while men’s work hours declined by about 15%, women dentists’ work hours declined by more than 22%.

The HPI brief didn’t speculate what caused the difference in work hours. However one of its authors, Marko Vujicic, Chief Economist and Vice President of the HPI, did note in a related video presentation that child care challenges have come up frequently in research about how the pandemic has affected women differently from men.

 “But even if it is explained by child care, is that OK? Are we OK with that as a profession?” Vujicic said. “That’s an important question to ask and discuss, because we’ve certainly seen professional women’s careers be disrupted to a much bigger extent than our male colleagues’ have.”

Child care issues may have also contributed to a decline in the number of dental hygienists, according to a study published in The Journal of Dental Hygiene.

The study found that the pandemic has led to an estimated 8% reduction in dental hygienist employment when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Among the hygienists surveyed for the study, more than 10% said that they left their job specifically due to child care concerns.

“Dental hygiene has traditionally been a female-dominated profession,” the study’s authors said, “and these results provide another example of how child care issues are playing an exaggerated role during the COVID-19 pandemic in driving career choices.”

Unfortunately, the results of these studies confirm that the gender pay gap between men and women in the dental profession is both significant and ongoing. For instance, while women’s incomes dropped more than men’s did during the pandemic, those incomes weren’t equal to begin with. 

While studies disagree on precisely how much the pay gap is between male and female dentists, they all agree on one point ― it’s a lot. For instance, male dentists may earn as much as 37% more than their female peers, according to ADA research. And it’s useful to note that researchers arrived at this figure after adjusting for hours worked, years of experience, specialty, and whether the dentist owned a practice. Another study found that dentists had the third-highest gender pay gap among all professions.

As the percentage of women dentists steadily climbs, they bring with them a younger and more diverse workforce. Female dentists are more likely to be Hispanic, Black, Native American or foreign trained. Women dentists are also much more likely to serve younger patients and those covered by public dental insurance.

Your dental policy brief: News updates as of February 7

From the latest on COVID vaccines and policy to recent court rulings, FYI brings you the biggest dental policy stories.

1. California law may expand dental coverage

A new law may open the door for some California adults and seniors to obtain dental insurance.

Set to take effect in 2023, California Assembly Bill 570, or the Parent Healthcare Act, will allow adult children to add their dependent parents and stepparents to their individual major medical insurance plans. The state estimates that as many as 15,000 people might be covered under the new law, which has no age limitations.

The law applies only to individual medical plans, including those that offer dental coverage, and doesn’t apply to specialized health care service plans that cover only dental. Employer-sponsored plans and Medicare supplement insurance are also excluded.

2. New federal law requires dentists to provide cost estimates to certain patients

The No Surprises Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, gives uninsured and self-pay consumers certain billing protections. Most notably for dentists, the act requires that many dentists, including those who practice in private dental offices, provide good faith estimates for the cost of care to these patients if they request them or schedule service.

  • After the request is made or service is scheduled, dentists and facilities must provide the good faith estimate in writing within three business days. Either a paper or printable electronic copy of the estimate is required.
  • If the actual charges exceed the estimate by $400 or more, the patient or an authorized representative can initiate a patient-provider dispute resolution process and seek a determination from an independent third-party certified by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

There are no specific specialties, facilities or service sites that are exempt from this requirement, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). However, the requirement doesn’t apply to patients with coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, the Indian Health Service, Veterans Affairs Health Care or TRICARE.

For questions about good faith estimates and the dispute resolution process, CMS has provided this guidance to dentists and facilities.

3. Court blocks large-employer vaccine mandate, upholds mandate for federal facilities

Two recent decisions by U.S. Supreme Court concerning the COVID-19 vaccine may affect dental offices. The court ruled on Jan. 13 to block a federal mandate that required large employers (such as dental practices with 100 or more employees) to ensure that all their employees either received the COVID-19 vaccine or wear facemasks and submit to weekly tests.

Conversely, the court upheld a mandate that requires staff at federally funded health care facilities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The rule affects certain dentists, including those who work in Medicare or Medicaid facilities such as nursing homes, surgical centers and hospitals. However, the ruling excludes private dental practices that serve Medicare or Medicaid patients.

5 surprising facts about teledentistry

It’s no surprise that the pandemic has brought a resurgence of interest in teledentistry. Even during lockdown, video conferencing platforms allowed dentists to have safe real-time interactions with patients.

But here are a few interesting facts about virtual dentistry you may not know.

The idea has been around for a long time

We tend to think of telehealth and teledentistry as recent innovations, but the notion of providing care remotely has actually been around for quite some time. An 1879 article in the medical journal The Lancet was among the first to describe the use of the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits. And in 1925, the magazine Science and Invention speculated about how physicians might one day use radio and video technologies to diagnose patients.

The first major use of teledentistry as we know it was in 1994 by the Department of Defense, which started a teledentistry program called Total Dental Access. The program enabled referring dentists from the U.S. Armed Forces to consult with specialists on the status of patients. It demonstrated that teledentistry could reduce total patient care costs and extend dental care to distant and remote areas.

Nearly a quarter of dentists in private practice have used it

Polling data from the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute indicated that 24% of dentists in private practice were using and billing for teledentistry during the period when elective care was postponed due to the pandemic. Although that number has since gone down, the National Institute of Health suggests that the advent of COVID-19 nonetheless accelerated the adoption and use of teledentistry overall. Delta Dental likewise found that while the teledentistry peak in 2020 has dropped off, the usage of teledentistry in 2021 remained higher than before the pandemic. An American Dental Association survey showed that pediatric dentists and orthodontists are the specialists who use teledentistry the most.

Patients like it

It goes without saying that video technology can never replicate the experience of sitting in an actual dentist’s chair for a consultation. And of course, there are many procedures and evaluations that will probably never be done through teledentistry.

Nonetheless, patients tend to be satisfied with the sorts of care that they’re currently able to access through teledentistry platforms. A recent study found that patients’ satisfaction level with teledentistry services during the COVID-19 pandemic was 100% in the satisfied and very satisfied categories, with contributing factors being convenience and communication.

Another study found that most patients (89%) were satisfied with a virtual appointment. Satisfaction rates were high among all age groups, and the majority of patients were willing to recommend the use of digital, remote counseling instead of in-person appointments to their family and friends.

Teledentistry is a big growth market

You probably already know that teledentistry is growing, but the numbers may still surprise you.  In 2019, the global teledentistry market stood at a little more than $667 million. Before the decade is out, the market is expected to reach $2.6 billion.

Delta Dental offers a free teledentistry platform

Delta Dental offers a free-to-access and easy-to-use teledentistry platform for virtual appointments, Virtual Consult. Available to you as a Delta Dental network dentist, Virtual Consult is a secure and HIPAA-compliant video platform that allows real-time face-to-face interactions with your patients.

You can connect to Virtual Consult online through any computer or iOS mobile device. Screen, assess and provide aftercare instructions (including e-prescriptions to manage pain and reduce risk of infection) to patients covered by Delta Dental PPO™ and Delta Dental Premier®.

Limited oral evaluations conducted through Virtual Consult are submitted to Delta Dental the same as in-office claims, so you don’t have to worry about learning a complicated new billing system.

Enrollment is easy. To get started, fill out the Virtual Consult interest form, and we’ll reach out to you.

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