By Representative Robin Kelly (IL-2)
I can still remember losing my first baby tooth. I put it under my pillow and got a quarter. When I was 6, losing my teeth meant money in my pocket. Now that I’m older, the idea of losing teeth is much less fun and much more costly.
But as we grow older, protecting our teeth, gums and mouth is more important than ever. Shockingly, a recent survey found that 60 percent of Americans would rate their oral health as “fair,” “poor” or “very poor.”
When we ignore our oral health, we’re at higher risk for a host of health problems, particularly cardiovascular complications. Nearly 80 percent of Americans recognize the important connection between oral health and overall health.
Despite this knowledge of the facts, many American still struggle to access oral healthcare. The same survey found that three-quarters of Americans encounter barriers to accessing dental care, primarily due to lack of insurance.
For older Americans, the need to protect our oral health is clear, but Medicare doesn’t currently cover our teeth. Because of the lack of coverage, 65 percent of Medicare recipients do not have dental coverage, and nearly half of all Medicare recipients had not visited a dentist last year.
For older Americans of color, the statistics are even starker. More than 70 percent of African-Americans and 65 percent of Hispanics did not see a dentist last year. Nearly 60 percent of rural Medicare recipients and 70 percent of low-income older Americans also did not receive dental care.
It’s time to put an end to these shocking numbers and ensure that older Americans have access to quality dentistry to remain healthy in their Golden Years. That’s why I introduced the Medicare Dental Act (H.R. 4650.)
This bill would provide coverage for certain dental items and services through Medicare Part B, including oral exams, dental cleanings, extractions, crowns dental x-rays, root canals and fluoride treatments.
As House Democrats work to reduce the costs of prescription drugs covered by Medicare, through the passage of the Lower Drug Prices Now Act (H.R. 3), I want to reinvest those Medicare savings into Medicare recipients — through access to dental care.
Along with my colleagues, we have also put forward measures, the Medicare Hearing Act(H.R. 4618) and the Medicare Vision Act (H.R. 4665), to further expand Medicare coverage using these savings.
For too long, older Americans on Medicare have had to pay high prices or else ignore their teeth, eyes and ears. It’s time to change that by lowering drugs prices for the system and reinvesting those savings in you.
Congresswoman Robin Kelly represents Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District. She serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and chairs the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust.
The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of TSCL.