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ADA long-term advocacy yields legislative victory for dentists and patients

April 1, 2021
Years of advocacy has led to the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act being signed into law; a victory for dentists and patients versus insurance companies.

Author's note: The American Dental Political Action Committee (ADPAC) has long battled for reform of the McCarran-Ferguson Act. During the 116th US Congress, ADPAC representatives conducted more than 600 meetings with members of Congress. ADPAC also oversaw a grassroots campaign with 10,322 dentists sending 23,090 emails to their Congressional leaders.

After many years of lobbying by the American Dental Association, its members, and its state partners, dental insurance companies will likely face additional scrutiny by the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This January, the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (CHIRA) was signed into law, repealing health insurers’ limited exemption from certain federal antitrust laws provided by the 1947 McCarran-Ferguson Act.

ADA members should feel proud for not giving up on this issue after many years of talking to their elected officials about leveling the playing field with insurers. Dentists’ advocacy was driven by the hope of creating transparency for patients and providers within the dental insurance marketplace. The passage of CHIRA demonstrates how engaging with elected officials can effect meaningful change, even if it takes a little while to do so.

Under McCarran-Ferguson, dental insurers were exempt from the enforcement of some federal antitrust laws. In the past, even though federal agencies always had the authority to enforce some of the antitrust laws against insurance companies, they rarely did—perhaps because one purpose of the McCarran-Ferguson Act was to reserve insurance regulation to the states. With the repeal, it is hoped that both the FTC and DOJ pursue antitrust investigations and actions against health insurance companies and seek sanctions if anticompetitive conduct is found.

What does this mean for dentists and consumers? The new law may have a positive influence on increasing competition among health insurance and dental plans in ways that will grant an advantage to both patients and providers. For example, it may stimulate the creation of plans that will offer improved coverage for patients and more attractive terms for the providers from whom insurance companies seek network participation. Over time, we’ll be able to see how this new law brings about some much-needed changes in the health insurance marketplace. We can all thank our advocates for that success.

DANIEL J. KLEMMEDSON, DDS, MS, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Tucson, Arizona, is the president of the American Dental Association. He is a past president of the Arizona Dental Association, the Southern Arizona Dental Society, the Western Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, and the Arizona Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. He’s received numerous awards for his dedicated service. In addition to maintaining a private practice, he is an attending oral and maxillofacial surgeon on the cleft palate and craniofacial team at Children’s Clinics.