Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland has introduced S.22, the Medical Dental Benefit Act of 2019, which would allow older adults and people with disabilities to access their oral healthcare under Medicare Part B.
Currently, Medicare does not pay for routine oral healthcare like checkups, cleanings and x-rays, restorative procedures, or dentures. Such care could help reduce incidents of tooth loss and gum disease in older Americans, Cardin’s office reports.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five adults over the age of 65 have lost all of their teeth. Also, about 68% of adults age 65 and older have gum disease.
“Good oral health is essential to overall health, but quality oral care can be expensive, essentially out of reach, for too many people in Maryland and around the nation,” said Cardin, a member of the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee.
“We’ve made incredible progress expanding dental coverage to children. Now we must do the same for the older Americans across this country,” Cardin said.
The bill recognizes that oral health is connected to systemic health by covering services that are necessary to prevent disease and promote oral health, restore oral structures to health and function, and treat emergency conditions, agrees Oral Health America (OHA).
Over the past four years, OHA has been working with other organizations to advocate for adding a dental benefit to Medicare Part B. A provision under Medicare Part B signifies that all beneficiaries would receive coverage, including those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.
Barriers in accessing oral healthcare include a lack of educational resources and the ability to pay for needed care, OHA says. Also, poor oral health has implications relative to other chronic diseases. It impacts nutrition, mental and social health, and independent living as well.
About 70% of seniors lack or have limited dental insurance, and fewer than half access dental care each year, according to OHA’s Wisdom Tooth Project. The gap in coverage leads to high out-of-pocket costs for those who do access dental care.
“For Oral Health America, S.22 is more than adding dental and oral health services to Medicare Part B,” said Beth Truett, president and CEO of OHA.
“It’s about ensuring people can take part in their day to day activities like eating nutritious foods without pain, playing with their grandchildren without embarrassment, and feeling confident about kissing their significant others!” Truett said.
S.22 specifically expands Part B benefits to cover dental and oral health services including routine cleanings and exams, fillings and crowns, major services such as root canals and extractions, emergency dental care, and other necessary services.