WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee, has introduced legislation (S. 22) that creates a dental benefit under Medicare Part B. Currently, Medicare does not pay for routine oral health care like checkups, cleanings and x-rays, restorative procedures, or dentures. Such care could help lower incidents of tooth loss and gum disease in older Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one in five adults over the age of 65 have lost all of their teeth. About two in three (68 percent) adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease.
“Good oral health is essential to overall health, but quality oral care can be expensive – essentially out of reach – for too many people in Maryland and around the nation,” said Senator Cardin. “We’ve made incredible progress expanding dental coverage to children, now we must do the same for the older Americans across this country.”
An estimated 70 percent of seniors lack or have limited dental insurance, and fewer than half access dental care each year, according to the Wisdom Tooth Project of Oral Health America. The gap in coverage leads to high out-of-pocket costs for those who do access dental care.
The text of the Cardin legislation (S. 22) can be found here. The bill would repeal the statutory exclusion on Medicare coverage of dental care and dentures in Section 1862(a)(12) of the Social Security Act. The legislation expands Part B benefits to cover dental and oral health services, including routine cleanings and exams, fillings and crowns, major services such as root canals and extractions, emergency dental care, and other necessary services.
In September of last year, Senator Cardin led his colleagues in a bipartisan letter to the Department of Health and Human Services urging Secretary Azar to use existing authorities to improve Medicare coverage for adult oral health to improve oral health and overall wellness as well as potentially reduce costs to the Medicare program. Cardin was also responsible for guaranteeing pediatric coverage for dental care through both the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The Cardin dental health bill has earned endorsements from Families USA, Justice in Aging, Center for Medicare Advocacy, and Oral Health America.