Happy Denture Day
Today marks a milestone in the 5-year effort to restore full oral health and dental benefits for adults on the MassHealth program. Today, MassHealth is restoring coverage for dentures (here's the official notice), another step along the road we hope leads to full coverage of all dental care.
In 2010, the Governor eliminated almost all dental benefits for adults on the MassHealth program - over 700,000 people, including 120,000 very low-income seniors. The cut reversed a legislative directive to include all dental services for MassHealth members, included as part of the Romneycare law, chapter 58 in 2006.
Lack of access to comprehensive and consistent oral health care creates a serious burden for the most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth and can lead to pain, suffering, and in the worse cases, death. Fortunately, dental disease is almost entirely preventable when people have access to prevention and treatment services.
Oral health is overall health. Dental decay is linked to many complex, costly health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes. Oral disease can cause needless pain and suffering, and may spread throughout the body. Oral disease negatively impacts the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS in that if one is unable to chew, eat or have dental function, they may not be able to adhere to dietary or prescription regimens.
Our Helpline hears regularly from people impacted by the cuts. A Mattapan man, unemployed and with eight recent extractions, is unable to afford the dentures he needs. He can neither eat nor speak properly and he certainly cannot interview for jobs. A Springfield woman with diabetes and mental illness told us she had to have all of her teeth pulled. Her doctor warned that without dentures, which are not covered by MassHealth, she will only get sicker. Across the Commonwealth, residents’ health is deteriorating dangerously because of a lack of access to basic oral health care and treatment.
Over the past few years, the legislature has slowly restored some benfits, including fillings and cleanings. The budget for this fiscal year (which runs from last July 1 to June 30 of this year) included limited funds for full, but not parital dentures. But the limited amount forced MassHealth to delay implementation to today, just 45 days before the end of the fiscal year.
We continue to push for full restoration of all benefits. Senator Jason Lewis, Senate chair of the legislature's Public Health Committee, recognizes that without access to comprehensive care, patients are forced to turn to emergency rooms, clinics, and inpatient hospitalization for treatment, and the Commonwealth wastes millions in emergency oral health care treating diseases and infections that could have been prevented. He is sponsoring a budget amendment in the Senate (Amendment 896) that would add funding to restore all dental benefits for adults on MassHealth. The Senate is expected to vote on the amendment early next week.
A group of HCFA activists will be gathering at the State House on Tuesday evening to meet with their senators about the dental care amendment. Please contact your state senator to add your voice.
- Brian Rosman