U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) is seeking to add a provision in future COVID-19 legislation that would enable people who have lost their dental insurance coverage during the economic downturn to receive government-backed insurance.
Cardin was joined by seven colleagues, including Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who wrote a letter to Senate leadership asking that individuals who may have lost their dental insurance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic be considered in future relief packages, and that uninsured youth and adults have adequate access to coverage under Medicaid.
“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,” the senators wrote. “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.”
The senators assert that COVID-19 is a major risk for those who work in the dental care industry, resulting in “a dramatic decline in services delivered.”
According to the letter, the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute predicts a major decrease in dental expenditures for this year and community health centers serving low-income or uninsured individuals fear that they will see a massive decline in visits, as well as over $7 billion in lost revenue and the depletion of thousands of 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,” the letter reads.
The senators said that access to adult dental care under Medicaid is often the first to go when states have budget troubles.
They’re requesting a temporary increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage — the official name for the federal matching rate for Medicare spending. This would allow states to maintain dental coverage through their Medicaid programs during the balance of the public health crisis.
The lawmakers have also called for the creation of a $75 million public oral health infrastructure fund that would allow health departments across the country to have money to improve their ability to deliver care. This would build on the CDC’s Division of Oral Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration’s grant programs, which ensure appropriate equipment and training makes its way to state and local health departments.
“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,” the letter reads.