The Estonian Health Insurance Fund (EHIF) paid out a combined €26.8 million in dental care benefits last year — €152,000 more than planned, as the number of people to utilize their assigned benefits increased.
Just 40 percent of adults in Estonia regularly visit the dentist, according to National Institute for Health Development (TAI) data from 2018. The number of people to utilize the annual dental benefits assigned to them increased to 517,000 last year, however — up by 55,000 from 2021.
EHIF spokesperson Sander Rajamäe said that actual dental benefits costs turned out to be €152,000 higher than planned last year. He added that as some of the state fund's budget lines also saw better tax receipts, the necessary funds to cover this gap would be taken from there.
"We can see that dental benefit use is increasing in general, both by year and by age group," Rajamäe said. "I'm pleased to say that working-aged people have increasingly started to use the dental benefit as well."
According to EHIF data, changes have occurred in the recipients of dental benefits in recent years — including the addition of people who receive subsistence benefits, who are also the most vulnerable target group.
Rajamäe noted that each year, more and more dental clinics — around ten or so a year — are partnering with the fund to provide EHIF-funded dental care to patients; currently, 432 dental clinics across Estonia provide EHIF-funded services.
Estonian Dental Association (EHL) executive director Helen Lang explained why some clinics nonetheless choose not to opt into the EHIF funded care opportunity.
"One thing is the fact that a clinic's actual prices are higher, i.e. the prices imposed on the EHIF's price list aren't cost-based," Lang said. "If a clinic is offering a broad spectrum of services and they have various specialists, then equipment and investments being made are much bigger than for example a small office where one dentist works together with their assistant."
On the other hand, she continued, there are clinics in Estonia that won't partner with the state fund because its prices are too high for their patients. "In other words, they provide [dental] care services for their patients for cheaper," she added.
The EHL believes the current dental benefit system should be changed. According to Lang, patients who really need it should be the one to receive dental benefits. Nonetheless, she hopes that, in the future, the opportunity will arise for employers to be able to reimburse dental care as well.
Under the current system, dental care is free for children under the age of 19; emergency dental care is free as well. Insured adults are provided with up to €40 per year in dental benefits, with 50 percent of the bill to be paid by the patient.
Dental benefits increase to up to €85 per year across certain categories, including for pregnant people and recipients of old age pensions.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla