In letters to U.S. House and Senate leaders, a coalition of more than 150 national, state and local oral health and advocacy organizations, including the American Dental Association, urged congressional leaders to co-sponsor and work to advance the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act (S. 570/H.R. 1342), which would make comprehensive dental care a mandatory component of Medicaid coverage for adults in every state.
“Oral health coverage is a glaring hole in Medicaid benefits that are otherwise a lifeline to millions of adults and families,” the letters stated. “Adult dental coverage is optional for state Medicaid programs. … As a result, oral health coverage for adults varies widely across states, and some states don’t cover it at all. This puts care out of reach for millions of people, especially given that adults with low incomes confront the greatest cost barriers to oral health care out of any age or income group.”
The coalition also said adding adult dental coverage to Medicaid is key to advancing racial, economic and health justice and that coverage for adults could alleviate needless suffering while also advancing equity.
“Lack of access to dental care is one of the most overlooked examples of health disparities today. … The very people who are also most likely to get sick or lose their job from health and economic crises also face the steepest structural and historic barriers to dental services: people with low incomes; Black, Hispanic, and other people of color; tribal communities; people with disabilities; and those in rural America, among others,” the letters stated.
The letters also noted that the lack of Medicaid dental care coverage for adults threatens national prosperity.
“For many adults, being able to afford dental care could be the key to getting a new job or supporting their economic security,” they stated. “Yet three in ten working-age adults with lower incomes say that the appearance of their mouth and teeth affects their ability to interview for a job. Research shows, however, that Medicaid adult dental coverage can improve employability, while reducing associated racial inequities in the job market. Good oral health can also increase wages for women in the workforce. These gains could be pivotal for people recovering from pandemic unemployment, which most hurts women and women of color.”
The coalition also told lawmakers that “expanding oral health coverage is a cost-effective way to support better health at every age.”
The letters noted analysis by the ADA Health Policy Institute, Community Catalyst and Families USA finds extending Medicaid adult dental benefits could lead to a savings of at least $273 million annually in medical costs related to diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy and could lower overall state spending on dental care, as well as other key savings over time. For instance, greater access to dental care would avert hospital emergency department visits for dental pain — saving the U.S. health system $2 billion annually.
“Congress can and must advance federal policy that makes comprehensive oral health coverage for adults a permanent part of the Medicaid program for all states,” the letters concluded. “By advancing the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act, lawmakers can promote a sustainable economic recovery and reduce vast health inequities by guaranteeing dental coverage to all adults who count on Medicaid, no matter where they live.”
The ADA sent a letter in March commending Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., for introducing the legislation.
Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy efforts at ADA.org/advocacy.