Monday, July 31, 2017
While we all paid close attention to health care in the Senate last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee made a critical, yet mostly overlooked step to advance oral health for at-risk populations.
On July 27th, the Committee unanimously passed HR 2422, or the Action for Dental Health Act of 2017. This bill calls for Congress to authorize additional oral health promotion and disease prevention programs to help at-risk populations struggling to obtain appropriate oral health care.
The bill points out that more than 181 million Americans will not see a dentist, but almost half of people ages 30 and older have some form of gum disease and nearly a quarter of children under age 5 already have cavities.
As we at DentaQuest well know, caries is the most prevalent chronicdisease among children and can be prevented. What’s more, we see time and again that Americans of all ages are in desperate need of access to oral health care - Missions of Mercy like the one in Wise County, Va., is a great example. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times covered the July event, for which thousands of people come from miles away and lineup for hours and even days just to get access to dental and other services.
If this new legislation passes through Congress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will award grants and collaborate with states, counties, public officials, or other stakeholders to implement a variety of initiatives.
These activities could include oral health programs that:
· more broadly use portable/mobile dental equipment;
· facilitate the establishment of dental homes;
· eliminate geographic, language, cultural, or other barriers to care;
· reduce the use of emergency departments for dental conditions; and
· provide dental care to nursing home residents.
It is exciting to see bipartisan support for dental care initiatives that have tremendous impacts on the oral and overall health of patients. This type of work will drastically improve the health of Americans. And it has the ability to address the estimated $2.6 billion in free care that dentists currently deliver, as well as the nearly $2.1 billion spent on dental cases in hospital emergency departments – 80 percent of which could be treated in a dental office for roughly $4 million total, according to the bill.
Bipartisanship like this must continue and we urge legislators to make oral health a critical component of any health reform legislation that passes through this Congress.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
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.