Why We (Still) Need to Add Dental to Medicare

Published 11/15/2021

Note: Soon before this communication brief was published, Congressional negotiators announced that their social spending proposal was being trimmed to allow hearing coverage in Medicare but not dental or vision benefits. Whatever direction this debate takes, oral health leaders and advocates for older adults can make a difference by talking with their elected officials and underscoring why oral health coverage is so crucial.

For older adults, the need for dental care is particularly acute, because aging increases the risks for oral health problems. Yet standard Medicare does not include routine dental coverage.

A communications brief from CareQuest Institute synthesizes results from several surveys and studies to reveal the extent of this ongoing problem. Key points include:

  • 1 in 4 adults aged 65 and older (25%) said they had not received dental care in more than two years, well before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
  • Older adults were two-and-a-half times more likely to cite the cost of care than COVID-19 as the primary reason why they did not receive oral health services during the past two years.
  • During the last year, 7 in 10 Black Medicare participants and 6 in 10 Hispanic enrollees did not see a dental provider. Roughly 1 in 5 rural seniors have not seen a dentist in over five years.

The brief also explores the impact of this lack of access and a possible pathway forward.

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