India must push for targeted dental insurance schemes

affordable dental insurance plans
The government must offer low-cost dental insurance plans covering a majority of its citizens who cannot afford oral healthcare.

India needs affordable dental insurance: The right to health is considered a basic human right. Oral health is an important part of wellness and overall health. Dental care is expensive in India as in other parts of the world. This prevents individuals from accessing dental care. Routine dental and oral health checkup can reveal these factors at early stages and interventions can be done.

The increasing cost of healthcare is due to several reasons such as growing demand for health services, ever-evolving healthcare technology, lack of healthcare incentives, and inflation. As the public funding of healthcare services increased in all developed countries, new techniques of providing services also developed. India has a high prevalence of oral and dental diseases and it is well known that oral disorders are a public health issue. Poor oral health can lead to poor aesthetics, impaired breakdown of food, extreme discomfort leading to nutritional deficiencies, and loss of production due to lost man-hours.

Out-of-pocket payment for dental healthcare is still the most common payment method in developing nations like India. Very few people can afford this on a regular basis. A majority of individuals will visit a dentist only on rare occasions and for curative treatment. Because of the high expense of preventive measures, the percentage of the population who receives dental treatment has remained low. There is also a lack of awareness among Indian population regarding oral health.

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Dental insurance coverage in India

Dental surgeries are not covered by most Indian health insurance companies because of the misconception that they come under cosmetic treatment. Treatment resulting from accidental injuries, on the other hand, are frequently reimbursed by insurers. If you’re looking for a health insurance plan, you’ll be spoiled for choices. The number of health insurance plans sold has increased in recent years as people have become more aware of the need for health insurance. Individuals can choose to increase their coverage as they become older or based on their health needs, thanks to the alternatives and add-ons that insurers provide.

The government of India has launched the National Oral Health Program [NOHP] in 2014-15 to provide integrated, comprehensive oral health treatment in existing healthcare facilities. To improve community based oral health awareness and service delivery, the public-private partnership approach may be used with private dental colleges, various dental societies and community-based groups, but not with credible outcomes. There are very few private insurance companies in India that cover dental operations and none of the big insurance companies offer dental insurance separately.

Though India is producing a large number of dental graduates, most rural areas in the country do not have service providers for common oral diseases and hence about 72.6% of the rural population remains uncovered. There is also the issue of accessibility and cost if people need to travel to get oral health treatment. Most dental procedures are covered in the case of an accident, although they are usually restricted to fixing the damage caused by the accident.

The Bharti AXA Smart Health Insurance Plan, for example, provides coverage for dental care up to a limit of Rs 5,000. The first dental insurance plan in India was recently introduced by OCare, an insurance Process as a Service (PAAS) platform. The plan covers pre-existing dental diseases and offers insurance up to Rs 25,000 per year per individual.

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Dental health and Union Budget

Dental health is still not a priority for the government, despite its focus on healthcare. The government should consider steps to enhance this sector. One way it can do this is to provide dental insurance some support. In order to speed up the adoption of dental insurance in the country, the government could consider providing a 200% discount on dental insurance premiums. This would not only help reduce treatment cost, but it will also encourage individuals to see a dentist when they need one. This will help drive the dental treatment industry in the next three to four years.

Needed dental insurance benefits:
• Free dental consultation
• The advantage of Whitening of tooth and cleaning
• Mild infection management
• There are a few free tooth scaling services available.
• Covers for the tooth extraction
• Routine dental checkup at discounts

Policy recommendations

The methods of analysing healthcare should not be restricted to the ability and capacity of government-provided healthcare, but should also include alternative payment mechanisms such as insurance. Out-of-pocket expenditures for even routine health treatments can be extremely costly, limiting people’s ability to access quality care. Because of the high cost of dental services, the usage of dental care is low and is proportional to the current demand. As a result, dental payment programs or insurance plans can reach out to more individuals.

India needs a low-cost insurance plan and similar schemes to provide an oral healthcare. Such scheme can utilise the services of ASHA workers to impart knowledge to children. People of who require regular dental health interventions and check-ups mostly fall into two groups — children (early childhood) and geriatric population. So, the schemes should target these groups to improve oral healthcare. This will also reduce overall disease burden of the country.

(Saurabh Ingole and Prinshu Gupta are final year master’s students in public health at MIT World Peace University, Pune.)