CDHP urges Congress to unlock every families’ potential by meeting their oral health needs

By: Colin Reusch

Numerous plans for universal health coverage have been introduced in Congress and polling shows that health care is a top line issue for millions of Americans. The Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP), along with 97 other organizations from across the country, sent a letter to members of Congress urging the inclusion of oral health in any legislative effort to expand health coverage or improve the health care system. Among the signing organizations are national, state and local entities, representing a diverse array of constituencies and issue areas. All groups are members of the Oral Health Progress and Equity Network (OPEN), which seeks to ensure that every person is able to achieve oral health and thrive. When it comes to achieving good oral health, our current health care system presents a series of locked doors for many people. Without meaningful coverage, individuals, families, and communities lack an essential key to securing overall health and well-being. We are calling on policymakers to ensure each of us has the opportunity to be healthy by establishing oral health as a priority for every member of a family in any major reform to our health care system.

By providing affordable coverage and access to everyone, we can begin to unlock the doors to oral health and eliminate dental disease as a barrier to success.

The realities of a system that keeps the door shut on so many families came into focus at a high-profile hearing on universal health coverage held in June by the House of Representatives’ Ways & Means Committee. Lawmakers heard from Rebecca Wood, a mother who shared the many barriers that she and her daughter Charlie have encountered while navigating private insurance and Medicaid to get the medical and dental care they both need. Her and others’ experiences underscored the need to expand coverage and improve the affordability of care. Their stories also illustrated the degree to which lack of access to oral health care can affect families’ health and economic stability.

Rebecca is one of many people who has had to defer dental care due to inadequate coverage and high out-of-pocket health care costs. She recounted the pain, infection, and life-altering consequences that ensued when she was forced to choose between paying for a dental procedure or her daughter’s specialist care. Like many parents, she put her family’s resources toward her daughter’s needs. As a result, Rebecca’s quality of life has suffered, leaving her with diminished self confidence and daily function:



“I don’t know what the worst part is. The excruciating pain I live with every day, how I worry whether I'm drooling when I smile, how eating is awkward and challenging, or how I love jazz but will never play the trumpet again.”

Rebecca’s story is an all too real example of how our health care system forces many people into emergency situations, particularly for oral health, when earlier dental care could have minimized her suffering and financial expense. It also shows how oral health is critical to overall health and well-being, and the ways our health system leaves millions of families without the keys to access good oral health — no matter how hard they try. And yet, by providing affordable coverage and access to everyone, we can begin to unlock the doors to oral health and eliminate dental disease as a barrier to success. We can ensure that parents and children alike are able to get the care they need to learn, work, and achieve their dreams.

During the first Democratic presidential candidate debates, it was apparent that health care will remain a high priority issue as we approach the 2020 election. While candidates lack consensus on approaches to universal health care, nearly every candidate expressed support for policies that would expand coverage to as many people as possible. However, as CDHP’s Executive Director, Meg Booth pointed out in a recent op-ed, some universal coverage plans could leave oral health on the sidelines as programs like Medicare and Medicaid do not currently guarantee oral health benefits for everyone.

Policymakers should recognize that any plan is incomplete without addressing the oral health needs of every person in a family.

CDHP and its partners will continue to encourage members of Congress to make oral health a core component of any health care reform efforts. Our letter can also be used by advocates pursuing state-level opportunities to expand access to coverage, whether that be through expansions of Medicaid coverage, public option insurance plans, or other innovative policies. Regardless of the specific approach, policymakers should recognize that any plan is incomplete without addressing the oral health needs of every person in a family.

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children ages 6-12 suffered a toothache in the previous six months.
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