Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings on Thursday introduced the most sweeping legislation ever to address the national crisis in dental care. "When we talk about the health care crisis in America we often ignore a very important aspect of that crisis; that tens of millions of Americans are unable to access affordable dental care and they suffer as a result of that," Sanders told a news conference on Capitol Hill. "Today, by introducing what we believe is the most comprehensive dental care legislation in American history, we start addressing that issue."
"This bill recognizes the important role of dental care in overall health and expands coverage to those who have so often been left behind," Cummings said. "Disparities are systemic in our nation's health care system and have resulted in unacceptable differences in access and health care outcomes. That is why I am proud to introduce this legislation with Sen. Sanders to ensure that every person has access to affordable dental care and the opportunity to enjoy a long, healthy life."
As many as 130 million Americans do not have dental insurance, according to a report prepared for Sanders as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging. One quarter of U.S. adults ages 65 and older have lost all of their teeth. About 17 million low-income children do not see a dentist each year, according to the study.
The legislation introduced in the Senate and House would expand comprehensive dental coverage to millions of Americans through Medicare, Medicaid, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The measures would authorize funding to increase access to dental services at community health centers and boost support for mobile clinics and dental clinics in schools.
Their twin bills also would address a severe and worsening shortage of dentists in the United States, especially in rural areas and inner cities. While the federal government estimates that at least 9,500 more dentists and other oral health care professionals are needed to meet the nation's needs, dental schools aren't even graduating enough dentists to replace those who retire each year.
The legislation would expand National Health Services Corps scholarship programs. It also would create new pilot programs to encourage training for specially-trained therapists who can help close vast gaps in patient care by performing some procedures now offered only by dentists.
To integrate oral health care with overall health care, additional support would be authorized for programs to educate non-dental health professionals about oral health.