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Issue Brief: Adding a Dental Benefit to Medicare: Addressing Oral Health Inequity Based on Disability

October 19, 2020

By Amber Christ, Directing Attorney, Health Team

The Medicare statute explicitly excludes nearly all dental coverage for the 60 million older adults and people with disabilities under 65 who rely on the program. Without coverage, large percentages of people with disabilities are not able to access dental care. For example, 62% of individuals with disabilities under 65 report they have not seen a dentist in the last year, compared with 49% of Medicare enrollees overall.

Beyond coverage, people with disabilities face multiple barriers to obtaining dental care, including lack of accessibility, lack of proper training for providers to treat people with disabilities, and lack of integration with general health care. We already know that poor oral health leads to poorer overall health outcomes. And, when you factor in COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on people with disabilities, this exclusion from oral health coverage becomes even more dangerous.

Justice in Aging’s new issue brief, Adding a Dental Benefit to Medicare: Addressing Oral Health Inequity Based on Disability, examines how adding an oral health benefit to Medicare would address inequities in access to care and oral health outcomes based on disability and puts forth additional policy options that can be implemented to further advance oral health equity.

This issue brief is the second in a series of papers that examine how to address inequities in access to care and oral health outcomes among certain groups of Medicare beneficiaries, including people of color, people with disabilities, older adults with dementia and cognitive impairments

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