Should Medicare for All include dental coverage?

Dentists

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As the 2020 presidential election looms, talks of Medicare for All have been front and center. One suggestion is to include dental benefits in Medicare for All guidelines, according to an opinion piece in STAT penned by Meg Booth, executive director of think tank Children's Dental Health Project.

"Polling shows that today's universal coverage efforts are driven largely by public outcry that people can't afford the healthcare they need to be happy, health and successful," she writes. "As this robust discussion continues, it's time to include comprehensive dental care as a standard part of health coverage."

Many Americans have reported significant financial barriers to accessing dental care compared to other aspects of healthcare. When left untreated, dental diseases are often linked to other health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease and premature births.

By breaking down the silos between dental and medical coverage, not only will overall care be improved but healthcare costs may also decrease, Ms. Booth argues. U.S. spending on dental-related emergency visits reaches around $2 million annually.

Although the costs to treat patients without dental coverage is staggering, federal health programs are not required to offer adults dental benefits. Currently, there are measures being taken to add comprehensive dental coverage to Medicare Part B, Ms. Booth wrote in STAT.

The dental Medicare benefits, however, vary state by state. For example, Tennessee's Medicaid program does not offer dental coverage for adults, but Ohio and North Carolina have robust dental offerings.

"Although it may be too early for one coverage expansion proposal to take root, every effort can steer the U.S. health system toward a plan that better meets the needs for all people," Ms. Boot wrote.

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