A bill passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and signed by Governor Tom Corbett requires insurance companies to cover the cost of general anesthesia for young children and patients with disabilities.
"If they can't be handled in a normal dental setting then their situation just gets worse and worse and worse, and then you have to deal with infection and all sorts of things that have occurred because a small cavity wasn't taken care of," said Dr. Bernie Dishler, president of the Pennsylvania Dental Association.
The problem is many private insurance plans are capped at $1,500 a year for dental service. The use of general anesthesia would eat up most of that cost, leaving people having to pay out-of-pocket for either the anesthesia or the dental work. That out-of-pocket cost can cause people to put off dental treatment, which often leads to more serious and costly problems.
"Anesthesia is a medical procedure and it should be covered by medical insurance," said Dishler. "In fact, in the Medicaid situation where kids or adults are covered by Medicaid, they take care of general anesthesia."
There was a fear that requiring insurance companies to cover it on top of other dental procedures would be too costly. Dishler said that hasn't been the case elsewhere. "31 other states have already passed this legislation and they've shown that it has not affected premium rates appreciably," Dishler said. "Some states said a few cents or a couple of dollars, so it's not really a big deal, but it's a big deal for the families that need this coverage."