How two dental plan reform bills became law in California through innovative CDA advocacy

Comprehensive campaign included digital advertising, broad coalition building
November 6, 2023
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Quick Summary: CDA’s legislative successes on dental plan reform have always included multifaceted advocacy at the state Capitol. This year, CDA expanded its tactics to counter the dental plan industry’s opposition to two CDA-sponsored bills that the governor signed into law last month. These tactics included launching and managing a digital advertising campaign and website, Fix Our Dental Insurance, with ads targeting state legislators, and building a coalition of over 20 organizations in support of the bills.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signatures on two CDA-sponsored bills introduced this year to improve dental benefit plan coverage and billing processes was a victory for California dentists, dental patients and a wide variety of advocacy organizations across the state.

AB 1048 and AB 952 will, among other things, prohibit plans from denying claims related to a patient’s preexisting dental conditions and require state regulators to review dental insurance premium rates to improve value for patients and employers.

Both build on CDA’s multi-year efforts to reform plans to better serve dentists and the patients they care for. Past legislative successes have always included CDA’s multifaceted advocacy at the state Capitol. This year CDA expanded its advocacy tactics in new ways to counter the dental plan industry’s opposition.

Here are the innovative efforts that formed CDA’s comprehensive advocacy campaign.

‘Fix Our Dental Insurance’ ads target state Legislature

CDA launched and managed a digital advertising campaign and website, Fix Our Dental Insurance, with ads targeting state legislators as they returned from their spring break.

CDA President John Blake, DDS, explains the targeted campaign.

“The intent here is to break through the noise and generate publicity on an issue that needs more attention. State legislators vote on thousands of bills each year and are inundated with so many different issues. This campaign helped bring greater attention to the overall problems with dental plans and the importance of passing these two bills this year.”

The campaign launched in April, prior to the first round of legislative committee hearings, and ads ran on websites and social media at various intervals throughout the legislative session. The campaign generated over 1 million impressions (views).

The overarching message of the campaign was that dental coverage falls short of true insurance.

While CDA often refers to “dental benefits” or “dental plans,” given the broader public audience for this campaign, references to “dental insurance” and “dental insurance companies” were used to help ensure the topic resonated clearly while reinforcing the message that dental coverage does not equate with real insurance.

At the top of the website fixourdentalinsurance.com, readers of the public found the message: “Californians deserve quality, meaningful dental insurance to ensure their dental needs are met. But today, dental coverage isn’t real insurance, and lacks many of the protections and oversight that come with medical insurance.”

The website summarized the two bills — with an emphasis on the more contentious AB 1048 — and included a link for constituents to “take action” by sending an email to their state legislators.

Importantly, it also made clear the two bills were “steps we are taking to address this issue right now in California — with much more to come!”

Here are a few examples of the digital ads:

Large coalition adds strength to dental reform cause

CDA also built a coalition of over 20 dental, labor, consumer, community health and ethnic organizations in support of the two bills — the largest coalition CDA has assembled in support of dental plan reform legislation.

The coalition’s breadth reflects growing concerns across the state about the lack of dental plan value, and CDA has been working actively to coordinate a wide variety of stakeholders.

Prominent labor organizations including the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, signed on in support of both bills early in the legislative session, with SEIU’s letter of support stating, “Delayed dental care can translate to days off from work, missed school days, and a decrease in quality of life.”

Well-known health and consumer advocacy organizations like Health Access and the Western Center on Law & Poverty, also joined the effort, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offered this powerful explanation of the need for AB 1048:

“Blood cancer patients depend on access to dental benefits; they cannot afford to wait or be denied. Sometimes, blood cancer patients must receive dental services before initiating specific treatments. A waiting period leaves patients with few options except to delay their cancer care (and risk their condition worsening) or pay for the service themselves and add to the already significant out-of-pocket burden faced by blood cancer patients … This bill will help reduce the potential for critical dental services to contribute needlessly to that already severe hardship.”

The complete list of supporting organizations can be viewed at the bottom of the campaign website.

Some ‘powerful examples of dental champions at work’

These efforts helped generate a strong, positive response from state legislators throughout the bills’ progress and complemented the voices of legislators who have become increasingly concerned about dental plan trends.

Numerous legislators spoke effectively in Senate hearings on the overall problems with dental plans and their lack of value, as well as the importance of oral health. They also described what they’re hearing from constituents and what they have directly experienced themselves as evidenced in this video clip from a Senate hearing on AB 1048.

“We saw some powerful examples of dental champions at work in the state Legislature this year as these bills were considered,” Dr. Blake said.

Continued importance of grassroots advocacy by member-dentists

CDA provided additional opportunities for member dentists to advocate for these bills by contacting their legislators and attending Grassroots Advocacy Days at the state Capitol in Sacramento.

Nearly 50 dentists and dental students came to Sacramento to meet with 40 different legislative offices, and more than 250 members contacted their legislators by email or phone to encourage them to support the bills.

“A core part of CDA’s advocacy program will always be ensuring that legislators hear from member-dentists who have firsthand experience dealing with these issues and can speak to the impact on their patients,” Blake added. “We greatly appreciate the members who stepped up to help this year, and we want to keep increasing that activity in the years ahead.”

Members can continue to share their experiences dealing with dental plan issues by submitting their firsthand stories to CDA. Real stories about disruptions in patient care will strengthen CDA’s ongoing advocacy for meaningful dental plan reform.

Both AB 1048 and AB 952 will take effect Jan. 1, 2025. Learn more about how the two new laws will improve dental plan coverage requirements and require greater transparency from plans.

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