Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings on Wednesday introduced legislation to address the dental crisis in America. The bills would expand dental coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislation was filed one week after a new government study documented skyrocketing costs and limited access to dental care.
The Government Accountability Office found that Americans spent about $108 billion on dentists in 2011 at charges that varied greatly for the same service. The GAO report was prepared for the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, which Sanders chairs. The panel last week held a hearing that also examined inadequate insurance coverage and government policies that discourage preventative care.
“When people cannot get to a dentist when they need one, they often end up in emergency rooms. It just doesn’t make sense for us to spend so much money on those who wind up in hospitals but refuse to help people get the care they need before it’s too late,” Sanders said.
Cummings, the House sponsor, said the legislation “puts us on the path to universal access by increasing the availability of care and expanding coverage to veterans, seniors, and low-income Americans. This is a critical step to addressing the vast differences in health care outcomes we see in our society.”
The Comprehensive Dental Reform Act of 2013 is supported by the American Association of Public Health Dentistry, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, the Children’s Dental Health Project, the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign and others.
In addition to improving access to dental coverage, the House and Senate bills would address a severe and worsening shortage of dentists in underserved communities. The legislation would expand National Health Services Corps scholarship programs and authorize funding to increase access to dental services at community health centers and boost support for mobile clinics and dental clinics in schools.
To read the Senate bill, click here.
To read a summary of the bill, click here.
To read the GAO report, click here.