Benefit Bulletin: September 2019

Benefit Bulletin: September 2019

One Third of TSCL Survey Respondents Have Not Received Routine Dental Care in Two Years

By Rick Delaney, Chairman of the Board

One-out-of-three adults covered by Medicare is not getting regular routine dental care, according to TSCL’s 2019 Senior Survey.  We estimate that translates to roughly 20 million older Americans who are going without bi-annual cleanings, X-rays, and dental exams.  Medicare does not cover routine dental health services, and that often comes as a shock to new beneficiaries.  More than half of survey participants say they do not have any dental insurance coverage.

The high cost of treatment is a frequently cited barrier by those who are not getting the dental care they need.  Elizabeth H., a retiree living in Colorado told us “I do not have the $7,000 I was told that I needed to get my teeth fixed.  They need to either be pulled and a bridge put in, or root canaled.  Being on a limited income, I do not see getting any of this done, and so it affects my health negatively.  Without dental care, I’m not as healthy as I could be.”

Advancing age puts many retirees at risk of oral health problems.  A common cause of cavities is dry mouth, a side effect of more than 500 medications.  Periodontal disease is widespread, even though it can be prevented with regular visits to the dentist and cleanings.  In addition, research shows a strong link between oral health and a host of other diseases.

Poor oral health makes serious medical conditions more difficult to treat.  Researchers have found links between gum disease and other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory, and Alzheimer’s disease.  Improved oral care on the other hand, can reduce medical costs in patients with inflammatory diseases, according to research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.  To improve health outcomes for beneficiaries and reduce Medicare spending on diabetes and other inflammatory diseases, Medicare needs to cover routine dental care.  More than 81% of participants in our 2019 Senior Survey agree.

The Senior Citizens League strongly supports legislation in both the House and the Senate that would address this issue.  H.R.576 Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA) in the House would expand Medicare to provide routine dental care.  In the Senate, S.22 Medicare Dental Benefit Act, introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (MD) would also provide coverage for dental care.

When attending town halls, find out how your candidate stands on this issue.  Ask whether he or she supports expanding Medicare coverage to dental care.