A new healthcare costs report shows that spending on dental care accounts for only about 4% of total healthcare spending. And, while spending in most sectors of healthcare is increasing significantly, it’s growing much more slowly in dentistry. Although this may seem like good news, the slow spending growth is associated with a wide range of unmet dental healthcare needs.
Personal Spending May Help Keep Costs Down
Healthcare spending represents a large portion of our total spending, and it’s increasing rapidly. The total spending on healthcare in 2013 was $2.9 trillion, while spending on dental care was only $111 billion, about 4% of the total spending. Overall, spending grew by 3.6% from 2012 to 2013, but dental spending only grew by 0.9% over the same period.
One possible reason why dental spending wasn’t growing as fast as other categories is that more costs for dental care were paid out-of-pocket than for other spending. For example, in hospital care, which had a higher than average growth rate, 4.3%, private payers only accounted for 11% of spending, while private insurance accounted for 37% of costs and Medicare and Medicaid accounted for 43% of payments.
But in dental care, there’s a completely different story, with private payers paying 42% of costs out-of pocket, while private insurers covered 47% and Medicare and Medicaid paying less than 10% of total costs.
The Tradeoff: Unmet Needs
So, if we want to reduce spending on medical care, it might be beneficial to put more responsibility on individuals with out-of-pocket fees. But this can have some serious consequences, as hinted at by another report on unmet healthcare needs. Of all the people who had unmet medical needs due to cost, 71% had unmet dental needs.
When we put healthcare costs on individuals, many of those individuals respond by simply not getting healthcare because they can’t afford it. Americans’ access to dental care may be improving, but there’s still a long way to go.
Dental care needs should be taken seriously, starting with dental checkups and hygiene visits, which can help prevent the need for more extensive and expensive dental treatments. We strive to make dental care accessible, working with insurance and offering flexible payment options, including the use of flex dollars for dental care.