15:46 PM

Health Reform: Put Teeth in the Debate

While oral health is often overlooked in health policy discussions, it remains an essential element for good overall health. Dental health coverage from private insurers like DentaQuest embodies the best elements of a good health care system: it is relatively inexpensive and it promotes preventive care and early intervention.

It is good to see the provisions in the House of Representative’s bill, Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962) that include children’s dental care in the essential benefits package. The procedures to be included in the essential benefits have not been discussed yet, but we are hopeful that organized dentistry will have an opportunity to outline the set of essential benefits. Adult dental coverage is not included in the reform bill, so while children might be insured through the “Exchange”, their parents would have to seek coverage in a different plan.

That would have the unintended consequence of dividing children’s coverage from their parents. Good oral health is critical for the entire family—parents and children alike. If parents don’t see a dentist because they don’t have dental insurance, then chances of their children seeing a dentist drop significantly. And that may mean that many childhood diseases, like early childhood caries – an entirely preventable bacterial disease—are less likely to be caught and treated early.

Americans understand how important dental coverage is to them and their families. In a recent poll by Oral Health America, nearly two out of three U.S. adults (63 percent) agree that dental coverage should be part of an overall health reform package. Forty percent believe this is very important.

Despite these facts, the recent discussion of health care reform has ignored oral health, rather than including it as a critical element of comprehensive health care.

The Senate Finance committee proposal has a solution that works for families. It allows family dental coverage to be offered through a dental insurance company and still makes sure that children’s dental needs are covered. Since over 97% of Americans currently receive their dental benefits this way today, please join me in letting your Senators know that you want family coverage to continue.