Screening and delivery of evidence-based interventions by dentists is an effective way to reduce tobacco use. However, dental visits remain an underutilized opportunity for the treatment of tobacco dependence. This is, in part, because the current reimbursement structure does not support expansion of dental providers' role in this arena. The purpose of this study was to interview dental insurers to assess attitudes toward tobacco use treatment in dental practice, pros and cons of offering dental provider reimbursement, and barriers to instituting a tobacco use treatment-related payment policy for dental providers.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 dental insurance company executives. Participants were identified using a targeted sampling method and represented viewpoints from a significant share of companies within the dental insurance industry.
All insurers believed that screening and intervention for tobacco use was an appropriate part of routine care during a dental visit. Several indicated a need for more evidence of clinical and cost-effectiveness before reimbursement for these services could be actualized. Lack of purchaser demand, questionable returns on investment, and segregation of the medical and dental insurance markets were cited as additional barriers to coverage.
Dissemination of findings on efficacy and additional research on financial returns could help to promote uptake of coverage by insurers. Wider issues of integration between dental and medical care and payment systems must be addressed in order to expand opportunities for preventive services in dental care settings.