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The Center for Medicare Advocacy is pleased that oral health in Medicare is gaining attention and focus, as evidenced by the number of Congressional bills introduced this year that would add dental benefits to the Medicare program. Among them are the Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2019 (S.22/H.R. 2951), the Medicare and Medicaid Dental, Vision, and Hearing Benefit Act of 2019 (S. 1423), and the Medicare Dental, Vision, and Hearing Benefit Act of 2019 (H.R. 1393). The Center believes the Medicare Dental Act of 2019 (H.R. 4650) would be an important step toward providing comprehensive oral health coverage for all Medicare beneficiaries. The addition of a comprehensive dental/oral health benefit would go a long way to improve the overall health and well-being of older persons and people with disabilities. It is among the top changes that beneficiaries wish to see in the Medicare program.

In the interim, a broad coalition of medical associations and societies, public health and disease organizations, and consumer and patient advocacy groups, has also been urging the Medicare agency to expand its policy to cover medically necessary oral/dental treatments. Unresolved oral disease may, for example, actually prevent or delay treatment, or seriously complicate outcomes for patients who require kidney transplants or treatment for leukemia/lymphoma or head and neck cancer, as well as for those needing joint replacements or who have uncontrolled diabetes.  The difficulty of affording dental and oral health care, experienced by most Medicare beneficiaries, may thus hinder management of major underlying health conditions. There has been a growing recognition for many years now that the glaring lack of coverage in this area must be addressed.

November 14, 2019 – W. Kwok

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