Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL) has introduced the Medicare Dental Act, which would provide coverage for certain dental items and services through Medicare Part B. According to Kelly, 80% of Americans support adding dental care to Medicare.
When we turn 65, our teeth don’t just fall out. They remain a vital, functioning part of our bodies for our entire lives. To stay healthy, we need to keep our teeth, mouth, and gums healthy. That means access to affordable dental care,” said Kelly, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust and member of the Health Subcommittee.
“As the House takes action to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for American families, we should use the government’s cost savings to expand health-preserving dental coverage to older Americans,” Kelly said.
Sixty percent of Americans rate their oral health as fair, poor, or very poor, and more than half are concerned about their oral health, according to a DentaQuest survey. Also, three-quarters have encountered barriers to care, with costs and lack of insurance topping the list. Plus, 70% used the term “expensive” to describe oral healthcare.
There is significant confusion surrounding dental care as well, the survey said, with more than 62% unsure or incorrect about Medicare coverage for dental care. “Confusing” was also a term selected by nearly 30% of survey participants to describe oral healthcare.
Kelly also says that while all Americans have reduced access to dental care, older Americans are especially vulnerable, with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation finding that 37 million Medicare recipients, or 65%, lack dental coverage. Kaiser also found that nearly half have not had a dental visit in a year.
The numbers skipping care increase significantly for communities of color, Kaiser continued, with more than 70% of African-American, 70% of low-income, 65% of Hispanic, and nearly 60% of rural Medicare recipients not seeing a dentist in the past year.
“It is time for our seniors to have unmitigated access to the care they need, including dental visits, which are a vital part of keeping our older Americans healthy,” said Representative Steven Horsford (D-NV), who is cosponsoring the bill.
“This gap in Medicare coverage leaves America’s seniors at risk for preventable oral health issues that can result in unnecessary hospital and emergency room visits, longer-term health issues, and higher Medicare spending overall,” Horsford said.
As the House aggressively works to reduce prescription drug costs for American families and Medicare and Medicaid, Kelly said, the cost savings could be used to fund the coverage provided by the proposed legislation.