FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 22, 2020
Washington, D.C. — Today, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán called for protecting Americans’ oral health coverage in upcoming COVID-19 legislation.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the economic stability and health care coverage – including dental – for millions of Americans and their families. While Congress has taken unprecedented steps to provide immediate relief to many Americans, we are concerned there has not been sufficient attention to protect access to dental coverage,” Congresswoman Barragan wrote in a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy.
Recommendations include an additional temporary Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) increase that can support state Medicaid programs to continue full access to adult and pediatric dental services, and the establishment of a $75 million public oral health infrastructure fund to support state and local health departments to improve oral health care delivery, prevention, surveillance, and workforce training.
Barragán was joined on the letter by Congress Members Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), James P. McGovern (Mass.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Gwen Moore (Wisc.), Tony Cardenas (Calif.), John B. Larson (Conn.), Darren Soto (Fla.), Grace Meng (N.Y.), Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), Linda T. Sanchez (Calif.), Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (Del.), Debbie Dingell (Mich.) and Scott Peters (Calif.).
Full text of the letter is below. For a pdf of the letter, click here.
May 22, 2020
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Speaker of the House Minority Leader
United States House of Representatives United States House of Representatives
H-232, U.S. Capitol H-204, U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515 Washington D.C. 20515
Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy:
We are writing to urge you to ensure that any upcoming legislation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic includes strong measures to maintain dental coverage for Americans who have lost their employer-based benefits and to ensure access to pediatric and adult dental coverage in the Medicaid program. As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the economic stability and health care – including dental –coverage for millions of Americans and their families. While Congress has taken unprecedented steps to provide immediate relief to many Americans, we are concerned there has not been sufficient attention to protect access to dental coverage, particularly for the most vulnerable Americans and believe there should be specific state and local infrastructure funds to meet oral health needs of our communities.
As you know, the oral health care system itself is at incredible risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that COVID-19 is a respiratory born disease, the nature of dental services makes treating patients particularly risky. As a result, there has been a dramatic decline in services delivered. Currently dental clinics are reporting less than 5 percent of their normal patient interactions, while recent modeling by the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute shows a 66 percent decline in dental expenditures through 2020. This affects both private and safety net oral health care providers. Community health centers, which provide comprehensive oral health care to low-income and uninsured populations, are projecting at least 34 million fewer visits, a $7.6 billion loss in revenue, and the elimination of over 100,000 jobs. While we are concerned with the oral health care system’s ability to meet immediate urgent dental care needs, we are even more concerned with ensuring that the system is adequately resourced to meet the community’s oral health needs when COVID-19 subsides, both in terms of coverage and access to providers.
As states face growing fiscal challenges, we are most concerned about maintaining access to pediatric dental benefits and the possible erosion of adult dental coverage in Medicaid. As you know, while nearly every state Medicaid program provides some level of dental coverage for adult populations, and more than 20 million Medicaid enrollees have dental coverage that extends beyond emergency services, access to adult dental coverage is among the most frequently cut or reduced Medicaid benefits when state budgets are in fiscal trouble. We believe, in order to keep the progress we’ve made over the last two decades from eroding, additional action must be taken to ensure that states maintain access to these critical benefits that provide everything from correcting dental problems that interfere with employability to early oral cancer detection and prevention of periodontal disease which can exacerbate diabetes or affect birth outcomes. This can be actualized through an additional temporary FMAP increase that can support state Medicaid programs to continue full access to adult and pediatric dental services.
In order to begin preparing the system to address the oral health needs of our most vulnerable citizens during and after this crisis, we must also ensure that state oral health infrastructure is able to respond with appropriate training, data collection, personal protective equipment, improved infection control, and direct care for the uninsured. Such an effort will need to build on existing efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Oral Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), both of which provide grant funding to state and local health departments to improve oral health care delivery, prevention, surveillance, and workforce training. We recommend the establishment of a $75 million public oral health infrastructure fund to support these critical state responsibilities.
In addition to the initial recommendations listed above, we are ready and willing to work with you on additional policies that address this issue and ensure that the importance of oral health in addressing this crisis is not overlooked. Thank you for your attention to this request and we look forward to working with each of you on this critical issue moving forward.
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.