Survey: Most U.S. dentists support adding dental to Medicare

2018 07 27 22 22 5971 Medicare Puzzle 400

A majority of respondents to a survey of 20,000 U.S. dentists support adding dental coverage to Medicare, according to research from the ADA's Health Policy Institute (HPI) and Oral Health America. The survey findings were presented at the recent American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in San Diego.

More than 71% of the dentists who responded supported adding dental coverage to Medicare, and over 75% who replied responded that they were very or somewhat likely to provide care for these patients.

"Across all of the questions, we did get a majority saying 'yes, we should have this; yes, I would participate; and yes, I'd be willing to make some changes,' " study co-author Cassandra Yarbrough stated in an APHA release. Yarbrough is a lead public policy analyst at the ADA.

Medicare Advantage

Medicare covers 59 million people in the U.S., but only a third of beneficiaries have some level of dental coverage, primarily through the Medicare Advantage plan, according to the researchers. In 2016, only 43% of people age 65 and older in the U.S. had an oral care visit, according to Yarbrough.

“We see it as a hopeful sign that ... dentists recognize that oral health equity is vital to the overall health of an aging nation.”
— Study co-author Beth Truett, president and CEO, Oral Health America

Researchers from the HPI and Oral Health America wanted to measure support for adding dental benefits to Medicare of both U.S. dentists and consumers 50 and older. The organizations commissioned four 10-person focus groups in June 2017 in Chicago and Tampa, FL, to obtain the consumer data. Each group was comprised of men and women ages 50 and older representing different races/ethnicities, education and income levels, and political perspectives.

The researchers also conducted two surveys of more than 20,000 U.S. dentists of all ages in May 2017 and January 2018.

Of those surveyed, 93% of the consumers and more than 71% of the dentists who responded supported adding dental coverage to Medicare.

More than 60% of the dentists also responded that they were "very willing" or "somewhat willing" to make some changes to their practice, such as learning new diagnostic codes or using electronic health records, if the payment rates were comparable to private plan payments.

The researchers concluded that there was strong support for Medicare dental coverage among both consumers ages 50 and older and dentists.

"Given the findings, policymakers should act to integrate dental coverage in Medicare," they wrote in their APHA abstract.

Study co-author Beth Truett, president & CEO of Oral Health America.Study co-author Beth Truett, president & CEO of Oral Health America.

Higher than expected

Beth Truett, president and CEO of Oral Health America, was one of the four study authors. The percentage of dentists in favor of adding a dental benefit to Medicare was higher than they expected, she told DrBicuspid.com.

"We see it as a hopeful sign that ... dentists recognize that oral health equity is vital to the overall health of an aging nation ... and conceivably a business opportunity represented by more patients with resources," she stated.

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