Can Medicare Save Money By Providing Better Dental Care?

Can Medicare Save Money By Providing Better Dental Care?

By Mary Johnson, editor

If you have an inflammatory disease like a chronic pulmonary condition, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), or even sleep apnea, I have one piece of advice:  Go see your dentist.  A growing volume of medical research has found a “strong relationship” between bacterial infections in our mouth and the rest of our body.  I recently learned this is no fluke.

Last year, symptoms from my chronic cough, IBS, and sleep apnea flared up all at the same time.  I dragged in and out of doctors’ offices through most of first 9 months of 2017.  My doctors couldn’t seem to figure it out, going as far as blaming it on “Post Election Stress Syndrome.”  That was not the cause of my health issues.  After a routine dental visit, I was diagnosed with yet another inflammatory condition — periodontal disease.

Dental care is not covered by Medicare.  While Medicare and a Medigap supplement covered 100% of my out of pocket costs for doctor visits, and my Part D plan covered asthma medications and several courses of antibiotics, current law specifically excludes the cost of dental care.  As a result, many beneficiaries do not receive necessary dental care.  In my case, I didn’t receive a referral to a periodontist in a timely fashion, because I had put off going to the dentist.

Altogether, it has cost me more than $6,200 out of pocket for x-rays, periodontal surgery and follow up care. But, after healing from the oral surgery and one last round of antibiotics, all of my other symptoms mysteriously cleared up as well.  I stopped coughing — for the first time in more than four years.  I haven’t needed an inhaler in months.  The IBS symptoms are gone.  Instead of inexplicably losing weight, I’ve gained 15 pounds — 10 pounds more than I normally weigh.  But the best part is that I’m finally sleeping normally.

Was it a fluke, or did the oral surgery have something to do with clearing up the symptoms?  Each of my conditions were linked to bacterial infections, and is treated with antibiotics. Studies also suggest that the oral bacteria and inflammation associated with periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, might indeed play a role in inflammatory diseases.  In addition to the conditions that I’ve already mentioned, links have been found to:

  • endocarditis and cardiovascular disease,
  • diabetes,
  • osteoporosis,
  • Alzheimer’s disease, and
  • stroke.

Getting good dental care in a timely way not only could help us stay healthier, it could possibly help save Medicare money by reducing visits to doctor, ifchronic inflammatory conditions are kept under better control. While I’m still working, paying for dental services out-of-pocket is still expensive.  It could be an impossible-to-manage hardship for many retirees, especially when more than half of Medicare beneficiaries live on incomes below $24,150 per year.

The Senior Citizens League supports legislation that would address these high out-of-pocket costs.  The “Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act of 2017, (H.R. 508) was introduced by Representative Roybal-Allard and has 130 cosponsors.  In addition to dental care, the bill would also allow access to eyeglasses, and hearing aids.  We urge you to ask your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor this legislation.  To learn whether your Representative supports this legislation click here.