Congress: Protect Access to Dental Health Care
As the Senate debates health care bill proposals to transform our care delivery and financing systems, we must ensure they protect access to dental coverage for all Americans.
Over the past few years, more and more Americans have been able to access affordable dental coverage. In fact, since 2000, the percentage of children without dental coverage has been cut in half.
Medicaid has played a critical role in this progress. Dental services are considered an essential part of the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) program, which ensures that children receive regular dental care. Adults have also benefited in recent years, with 5.4 million adults gaining coverage through Medicaid expansion.
Other public programs have also helped. Because pediatric dental benefits are considered an essential health benefit on the exchanges, more kids have coverage. Further, many adults have selected dental coverage through the marketplaces.
As more of us gain access to coverage, we see the rate of untreated decay declining among low-income children, and research shows that costly emergency department visits for dental-related issues have declined. These improvements are in large part attributable to the fact that more people have access to dental coverage.
Over the past several months – continuing this week and for likely the near future – Congress has explored various avenues for health care reform. The value of oral health care and dental coverage cannot be overlooked in these conversations.
Let’s not overlook that tooth decay remains the most chronic condition among children, which can affect school performance and attendance.
Additionally, optimal oral health is not simply a goal in itself, but is vital to creating healthier communities. Research has shown that tooth decay can result in an elevated risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. What’s more, recent studies demonstrate that treatment of gum disease can lead to better overall health management—as evidenced by lower health care costs and fewer hospitalizations—among people with common health conditions like those mentioned above or even pregnancy.
Any health care reforms must ensure dental remains a priority.
By improving access to dental coverage for low-income families in the past few years, we as a nation have made tremendous strides to
- ensure children are well-positioned for a lifetime of optimal health;
- decrease poor quality, high-cost emergency department visits for dental-associated issues; and
- improve the oral and overall health of vulnerable populations.
We hope Congress pursues solutions that protect these improvements.