Making the Case for Integrating Oral Health in Medicare
Advocates for an adult dental benefit in Medicare met last week in Arlington, VA, to hear the latest evidence supporting this policy goal and explore opportunities to further its adoption. In a keynote address, Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) said that while currently Congress has no appetite to expand public programs, she believes the planned 2020 Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health, scheduled for release in the fall of that year, will be an effective tool for building a public consensus around the need to integrate oral health benefits in Medicare.
Representatives of private insurers that provide oral health benefits to their beneficiaries with certain chronic conditions shared cost data demonstrating a strong return on their investment. Providing free or low-cost access to regular dental cleanings for enrollees with diabetes and coronary artery disease reduced hospitalizations and lowered overall medical costs. The effect was most pronounced in individuals over age 65.
The event was hosted by the Santa Fe Group, a think tank of dental educators, researchers and other stakeholders concerned about oral health. In light of the growing body of research demonstrating links between inflammation in the mouth and chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, the group has gone on record to say “sufficient evidence now exists that periodontal disease is a contributory cause to certain systemic diseases,” providing a compelling reason to “incorporate oral health benefits as a component of comprehensive health insurance.”