FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 10, 2021
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressional Hispanic Caucus 1st Vice Chair Nanette Diaz Barragán, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Raul Ruiz, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairwoman Judy Chu, and Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust Chairwoman Robin L. Kelly wrote to House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to urge them to make comprehensive adult dental care a mandatory component of Medicaid coverage as part of the Build Back Better Act while maintaining current provisions in the House-passed bill.
“Our oral health shouldn’t depend on our wealth, where we live, our race, or our age,” Congresswoman Barragán said. “Oral health is critical for overall health and improved access to dental care is vital to advancing racial justice while reducing health inequities. Adding mandatory adult dental coverage to Medicaid will make it accessible for millions of people of color across the country and allow them to get the comprehensive care they require.”
In July, Congresswoman Barragán introduced the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act, which would require state Medicaid programs to provide mandatory adult dental and oral health services.
In today’s letter to Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer the lawmakers wrote: “We now have a unique opportunity to close a glaring gap in Medicaid coverage and ensure that every person who relies on the program receive the dental care they need, regardless of where they live. As the Build Back Better Act is considered by the Senate, we urge you to support the addition of provisions that would make comprehensive dental care a mandatory component of Medicaid coverage for all enrolled adults while maintaining current provisions in the House-passed bill. … By adding Medicaid adult dental coverage to the Build Back Better Act, Congress can deliver stable and comprehensive dental coverage to all adults who count on Medicaid, no matter where they live. Doing so can continue to promote a sustainable economic recovery and to reduce vast health inequities across our country.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long-standing health inequities, and lack of access to dental care is one of the most overlooked examples of it today,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Dr. Raul Ruiz. “Expanding oral health coverage to all adults who rely on Medicaid for their health care is necessary to decrease health disparities. We must work together to strengthen Medicaid and remove cost barriers that keep dental care out of reach for so many low-income communities.”
“Oral and dental healthcare is not a luxury; it should be a right. Oral health is an often-forgotten tool in preventing heart disease, stroke, and diabetic complications, which are leading causes of death for Black communities,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty. “The inclusion of comprehensive adult dental and oral care in Medicaid coverage will dramatically improve health outcomes in our Black communities. We must also combat the structural, sociocultural, and economic factors that impact Black communities’ access to comprehensive dental and oral care. With this addition, the Build Back Better Act will allow Congress to deliver comprehensive dental and oral coverage to all adults who count on Medicaid, no matter where they live, no matter much they make, and no matter their background.”
“Without access to affordable dental care, people are forced to choose between their oral health and paying their bills,” said Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. “Not being able to afford to take care of one’s teeth can lead to difficulty speaking and make it difficult to maintain proper nutrition. However, oral health is not just about taking care of your teeth. Poor dental health is linked to adverse health conditions that can have lifelong impacts. For so many communities of color, there is limited access to proper dental care and coverage. And at the end of the day, it is these same communities that bear the burden of heart disease, dementia, kidney disease, and other ailments that are linked to poor dental care. We have a unique opportunity to significantly expand access to dental care and we must act now.”
The full letter is available here and below:
Dear Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer,
Thanks to your leadership, the Build Back Better Act promises to be the most significant investment in health equity and access to health care since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Through provisions such as those to extend Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum and close the Medicaid coverage gap, this legislation stands to address longstanding inequities in access to health care. However, the legislation does not address one of the starkest health inequities in the health care system. The current patchwork of adult dental coverage in the Medicaid program has devastating consequences, in particular for people with low incomes; Black, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander populations, and other people of color; tribal communities; people with disabilities; and those in rural America.
We now have a unique opportunity to close a glaring gap in Medicaid coverage and ensure that every person who relies on the program receive the dental care they need, regardless of where they live. As the Build Back Better Act is considered by the Senate, we urge you to support the addition of provisions that would make comprehensive dental care a mandatory component of Medicaid coverage for all enrolled adults while maintaining current provisions in the House-passed bill.
Adult dental coverage is optional for state Medicaid programs. As a result, adult dental benefits vary widely across states, and some states don’t cover it at all. This puts care out of reach for millions of people; further stresses underfunded tribal health systems; and compounds systemic barriers to care in marginalized communities. Despite increases in health coverage nationwide, cost barriers to dental care for low-income adults have only increased in recent years, with Black and Hispanic communities reporting the highest financial hurdles to accessing the care they need. But making adult dental coverage mandatory in Medicaid can help alleviate these inequities.
Moreover, disparities in adult dental coverage are harming America’s children. When parents lack dental coverage, their children are more likely to face delays in getting needed care or forego care altogether. These gaps most harm children of color and those in low-income families.
However, when state Medicaid programs provide dental coverage to parents, children are more likely to get the dental care they need.
These changes are also vital for America’s economy and workforce. Robust Medicaid adult dental coverage can improve employability, while reducing associated racial inequities in the job market. Good oral health can also increase wages for women in the workforce. These gains could be pivotal for people recovering from pandemic unemployment, which most hurt women, tribal communities, and communities of color.
This policy is both cost-effective and popular, as evidenced by broad support for the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act (H.R. 4439). Recent research suggests that extending Medicaid adult dental benefits could lead to significant savings. With improved oral health, the policy could save at least $273 million annually in medical costs related to diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy. It could also lower overall state spending on dental care. In addition, greater access to dental care would reduce other unnecessary health spending, such as averting hospital emergency department visits for dental pain. This could save the U.S. health system $2 billion per year.
By adding Medicaid adult dental coverage to the Build Back Better Act, Congress can deliver stable and comprehensive dental coverage to all adults who count on Medicaid, no matter where they live. Doing so can continue to promote a sustainable economic recovery and to reduce vast health inequities across our country.
Nanette Diaz Barragán is proud to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Carson, Compton, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood, North Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, South Gate, Walnut Park, Watts, Willowbrook and Wilmington. She serves as chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Border Security.