CHICAGO, USA: The American Dental Association (ADA) has urged US lawmakers to expand dental coverage to millions of low-income adults through an expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program. The association leads a group of stakeholders who support the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act and say the pandemic has exposed the inadequacies that exist in the provision of oral health care in the United States.
The ADA and more than a dozen other stakeholders wrote to the leaders of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives on July 7, urging them to support the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act (HR4439) and the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act of 2021 (S.3166). If passed, the legislation would make it mandatory for the state Medicaid programs would cover adult oral health services and increase the amount of federal funding states receive.
The signatories wrote that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has “shone the spotlight on the shortcomings of our social safety net programs, most notably in oral care”. They said the lack of access to dental benefits has worsened in the wake of the pandemic, due to an increase in Medicaid enrollment and millions of delayed dental appointments.
“[Poor] oral health creates social and economic barriers that prevent many low-income adults from advancing economically” – The American Dental Association
Under current Medicaid law, states must provide dental benefits to children, but there are no minimum requirements for adult dental coverage. According to the ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI), in 2021 three states (Alabama, Maryland, and Tennessee) offered no adult dental coverage and nine states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah) who only provided emergency care. Coverage was limited in 16 states and extended in 21 states.
“This lack of state coverage is particularly problematic because the millions of adults who rely on Medicaid are the least likely to access dental care (including basic preventative services), face the greatest cost barriers dental care and are more likely than their higher income counterparts to experience dental pain, report poor oral health, and find their lives less fulfilling due to their poor oral health,” the letter reads.
Among the co-signers were the Academy of General Dentistry, the American Association of Endodontists, the Hispanic Dental Association and the Diverse Dental Society.
A 2021 analysis by HPI showed that paying for dental care for low-income adults was a good investment. It found that the net cost of providing extended dental coverage to adults in the 28 state Medicaid programs would be US$836 million (824 million euros) per year, or US$4.64 per person. enrolled in the program per month. This included approximately US$1.1 billion per year in dental care costs and US$273.0 million in annual savings on medical care.
HPI explained the additional benefits that could be generated by expanded dental coverage nationwide: “As Medicaid oral health coverage opens the door to regular care in more appropriate and cost-effective settings, fewer people would turn to emergency services for dental pain relief. This change could save our health care system $2.7 billion a year. Additionally, poor oral health creates social and economic barriers that prevent many low-income adults from advancing economically. Removing these barriers would generate additional savings and empower people to pursue better jobs and careers. »