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Barragán and Cardin Reintroduce the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act

Legislation would ensure comprehensive dental and oral health services under Medicaid


March 6, 2022

Contact: Kevin McGuire

202-538-2836 (mobile)

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Nanette Barragán (CA-44) and Senator Cardin (D-MD) reintroduced legislation that would extend comprehensive dental health benefits to all adults who rely on Medicaid, replacing the current state-by-state system and providing mandatory dental coverage to all of the nearly 48 million adults currently on Medicaid.

“Dental care should not be a luxury. Adding mandatory adult dental coverage to Medicaid will make it accessible for millions of low-income individuals across the country and allow them to get the care they need, no matter where they live,” Congresswoman Barragán said. “Dental health is critical to overall health. Expanding dental coverage to all adults who rely on Medicaid is vital to reducing health disparities. Approximately 40% of Hispanic adults live in states where dental care is not covered by Medicaid. In my district, one of the poorest in California, this legislation will improve the oral health of thousands in my district and across California.”

“Oral health is integral to overall health, which is why I am proud to work to ensure it is covered in Medicaid for all beneficiaries,” said Senator Cardin. “By ensuring that all Americans have access to comprehensive oral healthcare, regardless of their income, we are working to create a healthier, more just tomorrow.”

Currently, states have flexibility to determine what dental benefits are provided to adult Medicaid enrollees. While most states provide at least emergency dental services for adults, less than half of the states provide comprehensive dental care. There are no minimum requirements for adult dental coverage under Medicaid.

“Our health shouldn’t depend on where we live or how much money we make, and that includes our oral health. Oral health care is the number one health service Americans skip due to its cost. Oral care doesn’t just impact the mouth but is intimately tied to the health of the whole body and mental health. It can impact our ability to find work and to engage with our friends and communities. Improving dental coverage in Medicaid is a critical way to ensure that working families have access to the affordable oral health care they need,” said Frederick Isasi, Executive Director of Families USA.

“Despite the importance of oral health, affordable and accessible care remains out of reach for too many people in America. Dental bills are one of the most common sources of healthcare debt in America. The financial burden is disproportionally carried by those that are systemically excluded from health policy, including the more than 91 million people that rely on Medicaid for health insurance,” said Emily Stewart, Executive Director of Community Catalyst. “By advancing this legislation, Congress can begin to address inequity and create a pathway to more affordable coverage for the communities who have long faced the highest barriers to dental insurance and dental care.”

Poor oral health can make chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke more difficult and expensive to manage. Among adults facing cost barriers to dental care, racial disparities have widened in the last decade and barriers to accessing dental care are one of the most overlooked examples of health disparities. Adults with low incomes; Black, Hispanic, and other people of color; tribal communities; people with disabilities; and those in rural America face the steepest barriers to accessing high-quality and affordable dental services. This kind of healthcare barrier has forced nearly twice as many Black and Latino American adults to suffer from untreated cavities than white adults.

The Medicaid Dental Benefit Act would require state Medicaid programs to provide mandatory adult dental and oral health services. At a minimum, this bill would require state Medicaid programs provide coverage to prevent and treat disease, promote oral health, restore oral structures to health and function, reduce pain, and treat emergency conditions. This coverage would include:

  • routine diagnostic and preventive care including but not limited to dental cleanings, exams, prophylaxis, fluoride treatments, X-rays, and other necessary services;
  • basic dental services such as fillings and extractions and major dental services such as root canals, crowns, restorations, and both complete and partial dentures including adjustments, repairs, and relines;
  • emergency dental care;
  • Temporomandibular (TMD) and orofacial pain disorder treatment;
  • other necessary services related to dental and oral health (as defined by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.)

On introducing the Medicaid Dental Benefit Act, Congresswoman Barragán was joined by the following original cosponsors: Llyod Doggett (TX-16) and Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-7)

The Medicaid Dental Benefit Act is supported by the Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, American Association for Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research, American Association of Endodontists, American Dental Association, American Student Dental Association, Community Catalyst, Families USA, and NYU Dentistry Center for Oral Health Policy and Management.

Read the full bill text here.


Nanette Diaz Barragán is proud to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Bellflower, Carson, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Lakewood, Long Beach, Lynwood, Paramount, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, South Gate, West Carson, and Wilmington. She serves as Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Health, Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Minerals Subcommittees.