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NEWS: Sanders Introduces Legislation to Address America’s Dental Crisis

WASHINGTON, May 17 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), today introduced legislation to address the dental care crisis in America. The Comprehensive Dental Care Reform Act of 2024 would expand Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA to provide comprehensive dental coverage to all of our nation’s seniors, veterans, and low-income children, individuals, and families. This bill would substantially increase the number of dentists, dental hygienists, and dental therapists in America particularly in rural and under-served areas. It would also make dental care services available in more community health centers, schools, nursing homes, and mobile units throughout the country. Moreover, it would make dental care an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act and increase woefully inadequate reimbursement rates for dental procedures under Medicaid.

Yesterday, Sanders also led a HELP Committee hearing on the crisis.

The legislation is cosponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and is endorsed by Families USA, CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, and Community Catalyst.

“Dental care in America is way too expensive,” said Sanders. “Far too many Americans, especially in rural areas, do not have access to a dentist, which forces them to either travel long distances or go without the care they need. Very few dentists accept Medicaid, preventing the most vulnerable people in America from getting the dental procedures they need. And there is a major lack of transparency in the prices dentists charge. The results have been tragic: One out of five seniors in our country are missing all of their natural teeth. Over 40 percent of children in America have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. And about half of Americans with dental insurance skip getting the dental care they need because they cannot afford it. That is why I have introduced the most comprehensive dental care bill in the history of our country. Dental care is health care and health care must be considered a human right, not a privilege.”

Today in America, nearly 70 million adults and nearly 8 million children have no dental insurance and many of those who do have dental insurance find that coverage to be totally inadequate. In fact, nearly half of Americans who have dental insurance have skipped their appointments because they could not afford to pay for the dental procedures they need. Nearly one out of every five seniors in America have lost all of their natural teeth and many of them cannot afford dentures – which can cost many thousands of dollars. Seventy percent of older Americans have some sort of periodontal disease which can lead to rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Research shows that treating periodontal disease in people with chronic health conditions can save money. In fact, up to $27.8 billion could be saved annually for Medicare patients with heart disease if these patients got the dental treatment they need.

The lack of affordable dental care is a problem all over America, but it is especially acute for low-income Americans, pregnant women, people with disabilities, veterans, those who live in rural communities, and Black, Latino and Native Americans. The situation has become so absurd, that each and every year hundreds of thousands of Americans travel to countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, India, Thailand and Hungary where it is much less expensive to get the dental care they need even after paying for round-trip airfare and hotel stays.

Each year, visits to the emergency department for dental care cost over $2 billion, but research shows that nearly 79 percent of those visits could have been addressed by a visit to the dentist, which would save up to $1.7 billion per year. In 2019, nearly 2 million Americans had to go to emergency rooms across the country for preventative dental procedures – a 62 percent increase from 2014.

To read the legislation, click here.
To read the summary of the legislation, click here.