The COVID-19 pandemic could cut dental insurance claims sharply this year, and a little bit for two years after that.
Joanne Fontana and Thomas Murawski, actuaries at Milliman, make that prediction in a new analysis of the pandemic impact.
Their base scenario shows that COVID-19 could lead to a 34% reduction in dental claims this year, a 7% reduction next year, and a 5% reduction in the year after that.
The actuaries acknowledge that concrete information about the impact of the pandemic is scarce, and that they created the analysis mainly to illustrate a framework for analyzing the effects of the pandemic on dental services use by people with commercial dental insurance.
The actuaries did not include the cost of orthodontic services, and they did not look a government-run programs that provide dental benefits, such as Medicaid.
They note that the “shelter in place” rules implemented to keep severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading, appear to be causing a big, immediate effect on use of dental services.
“People simply are staying at home,” the actuaries write. “Dental procedures, especially non-urgent routine care, are relatively easy to postpone, and people may consider these appointments nonessential at this time. Added to this is the fear of exposure to the virus in a dental office environment in which bodily fluids are a part of everyday practice.”
As shelter-in-place rules ease, other factors affecting use of insured dental services could be a pent-up need for dental care, consumers’ fear of infection, and consumers’ loss of jobs and dental insurance.
The worse a COVID-19-related recession is, the sharper any reduction in use of insured dental services is likely to be, the actuaries write.
The actuaries predict that the demand for moderately expensive treatments for dental problems, such as crowns, may be somewhat more resistant to a downturn than the demand for routine teeth cleanings or very expensive procedures would be.