Dental care ballot question cleared by SJC

BOSTON (SHNS) – A proposed ballot question seeking apply a spending limit on dental insurance companies survived a legal challenge, as the state’s high court said Wednesday that its spending and transparency components serve a common purpose.

The initiative, endorsed this week by the Massachusetts Dental Society, would require dental insurers to spend at least 83 percent of their dollars on “dental expenses and quality improvements, as opposed to administrative expenses.”

Those posting medical loss ratios of less than 83 percent would be required to refund excess premiums, and insurers would also have to submit to state regulators detailed annual financial statements that include information on lines of business besides their dental plans.

Plaintiffs in Clark v. Attorney General had argued that AG Maura Healey erred in certifying the question for the ballot, saying it improperly mixes unrelated subjects by proposing both new spending requirements and extensive reporting mandates.

Under the state Constitution, ballot questions can only include measures that are related or mutually dependent. The Supreme Judicial Court found the disclosure requirements “further the regulatory goals” of the proposal and would provide “a comprehensive body of information on which to assess a carrier’s compliance with the goals of reducing the cost of dental benefit plans or of improving the quality of care, patient safety, or efforts at cost containment.”

“That the petitioners chose to propose such a broad mechanism for monitoring compliance is not fatal to the measure,” Justice Elspeth Cypher wrote.

So far this week, the SJC issued two other decisions on ballot questions, striking one about the employment status of app-based drivers and allowing another on liquor-licensing rules to proceed. The court could soon publish a decision on a challenge to the proposed income surtax that is also set to go before voters in November.

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