Mandating dental coverage will drive up the cost of insurance

The Biden administration finalized a rule last month allowing states to mandate that most individual and small-group health plans, including those for sale on Obamacare‘s exchanges, cover adult dental services. 

Mandating coverage of dental benefits may be politically appealing. But it will end up leaving a bitter taste in people’s mouths. Mandates cost money. Implementing this one would incrementally increase the cost of coverage to the detriment of beneficiaries and taxpayers alike.

If states require insurers to cover dental care, then health plans will simply raise premiums to cover the additional cost of providing that care. Enrollees may not notice since the vast majority of them receive generous taxpayer subsidies to help cover their premiums. 

But someone has to cover that additional cost. And it won’t be insurers.

Federal spending on the exchanges was $60 billion in 2021, according to research from the Paragon Health Institute. All that spending has resulted in just 1.6 million more people with private insurance coverage. That translates to nearly $37,000 per additional enrollee.

Health insurance costs have grown dramatically because of Obamacare’s many regulations. In 2013, the year before the bulk of Obamacare took effect, the average monthly individual market premium was $232. This year, it was $477 for a benchmark plan. 

Mandating dental benefits will just nudge those premiums, and subsidies, higher.

Some small business owners may respond by scaling back their health plans, perhaps by opting for coverage with higher deductibles or more cost-sharing for their beneficiaries. It’s possible that some may drop their health plans altogether. 


People may similarly see their healthcare bills go up, even if taxpayers cover most or all of their premiums.

The idea that the government can make dental care cheap or free simply by mandating that insurers cover it is as fantastical as believing in the tooth fairy. 

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @sallypipes.

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