Earlier this month Maryland Senator Ben Cardin introduced The Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2019 that will, if enacted, add a dental benefit in Medicare Part B. This is a terrific policy step to help ensure Medicare beneficiaries have equitable access to comprehensive care. As a federal program, Medicare provides medical coverage and pharmacy services to older Americans and people with disabilities; however, Medicare does not cover dental services for the millions of Americans it serves. This means seniors and disabled individuals who rely on Medicare are not covered for the routine dental care or more extensive treatments that are necessary to maintain overall health.
The ties between oral health and chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease are pronounced; research shows that addressing oral health needs can lead to cost savings and health improvements. For example, in people with diabetes, regular dental care can lower blood sugar levels, cut overall medical costs, and reduce hospital admissions.
Other less publicized but equally important associations also exist. For example, kidney disease is one of the costliest conditions for Medicare. While a kidney transplant is a cost-effective treatment and can vastly improve quality of life, thousands of patients are ineligible for transplants because of untreated tooth infections. As a result, many individuals with end-stage renal disease remain on dialysis which is expensive and painful.
54% of older adults cite dental care as their most frequent unmet need, second only to transportation. Adding dental benefits to Medicare will help improve chronic disease management and health outcomes for Medicare enrollees, in turn lowering costs for the federal government.
Our friends at Oral Health America paint the picture well in the report: An Oral Health Benefit in Medicare Part B: It’s Time to Include Oral Health in Health Care. As the report highlights, 70% of seniors lack or have limited access to dental insurance, and fewer than half access dental care each year. Senator Cardin’s legislation is an opportunity to move one step closer to comprehensive health care and broadly acknowledge the important role oral health plays in overall health.
Please contact your Senators to share the important role oral health plays in overall health and ask them to support Senator Cardin’s legislation. As we continue to advocate at the state level for a comprehensive Medicaid dental benefit for adults, we must make sure our federal programs do not neglect vital oral health services. A dental benefit in Medicare Part B helps ensure Virginia’s older and disabled residents can get the care they need to be healthy.