August 5, 2021
Group urges Congress to use savings from Medicare drug pricing provisions to make dental, vision, and hearing coverage available for 60M Medicare beneficiaries.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Calling it an imperative to “improve equity, access, and health outcomes,” today a coalition of health industry executives, clinical professionals, public health experts, and advocates sent a letter to Congress urging expansion of Medicare to include dental benefits.
The letter, sent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Finance Committee Chair Roy Wyden, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, Jr., and Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal, called on Congress to pay for this critical expansion with savings realized through negotiating prescription drug prices.
The letter follows the release of a recent Morning Consult poll, showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans across the political spectrum and across the country favor adding dental, vision, and hearing coverage to Medicare. The poll revealed that 84% of all voters – 89% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans – favored inclusion of these benefits in Medicare.
“Medicare’s lack of an oral health benefit means that two-thirds of all enrollees – more than 37 million Americans – do not have dental coverage,” the group states in their letter. “These are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other people of color, those with disabilities, and those living in rural communities who are left without a way to afford the care they need to maintain health and well-being. For example, in the last year seven out of 10 Black Medicare enrollees and six out of 10 Hispanic enrollees did not see a dentist, and 20 percent of rural seniors have not seen a dentist in more than five years. This disproportionate lack of access to care can have serious consequences. One study showed that almost half of American Indians and Alaska Natives aged 65 or older had untreated tooth decay, compared to 19% of that age group for the U.S. as a whole.”
The letter makes clear that strengthening Medicare by including dental coverage is not only an equity issue, but also makes financial sense, as studies have shown that adding the benefit would result in a reduction of long-term health care costs. Providing benefits to people with chronic conditions has been shown to result in reduced health care spending. Additionally, people without dental benefits are also more likely to seek dental care at emergency departments, which are not equipped to provide this type of care and add significant costs to our health care system.
The group calls for funding the enhanced benefit package by allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug costs in Medicare, which the Congressional Budget Office projects would result in $456 billion in savings. Allowing drug price negotiation would also reduce out-of-pocket prescription drug costs to Medicare enrollees.
The letters signatories include American Dental Hygienists’ Association, Arcora Foundation, Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, Community Catalyst, Families USA, Hispanic Dental Association, National Dental Association, National Dental Hygienists’ Association, National Indian Health Board, National Rural Health Association, Oral Health Progress and Equity Network, Project Accessible Oral Health, Santa Fe Group, and Dr. Bruce Donoff, DMD, MD, FACS, FACD, former Dean of Harvard School of Dental Medicine. The group behind the letter came together at the start of the pandemic to highlight and address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s oral health.
About Medicare Dental Coverage
Medicare does not currently include coverage for dental health services as a standard benefit. Of the 60 million older adults and individuals with disabilities who receive Medicare benefits, 24 million do not have dental coverage. Low-income adults and people of color are overrepresented in this group. Poor oral health is linked with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and pneumonia, the risk of which increases among older adults.
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