Ore. inches closer to free dental for veterans

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Legislators in Oregon moved one step closer to providing free dental care to low-income veterans living in the state in 2023. If passed and signed into law, the bill would make Oregon the first state in the U.S. to offer this type of program.

The Oregon House of Representatives unanimously passed on March 3 a new state bill, HB 4095, that would make veterans living in Oregon eligible for free oral healthcare if they make too much money to qualify for free dental care under Medicaid and have an income at or below 400% of the U.S. federal poverty level. That income level is about $17,000 per year.

The bill was introduced by state Rep. Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg), a dentist. If it is passed in the state Senate and signed into law, the bill would go into effect on January 1, 2023.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides limited dental coverage to veterans. In many cases, coverage is provided to veterans with service-related dental conditions or injuries. Many military retirees in Oregon who are eligible for Tricare for Life, which is Medicare-wraparound coverage for those currently enrolled in Medicare parts A and B, must pay separately for dental coverage.

If the bill moves ahead, the Veterans Dental Program would be established under the Oregon Health Authority and administered in collaboration with the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Department of Consumer and Business Services. Veterans discharged honorably, as well as those who were not discharged honorably but who obtained a waiver from the state because the discharge was due to discriminatory policies or practices, would be eligible, according to the legislation.

Though efforts have been made on the national level to bring dental services to veterans, none have recently come to fruition. Most recently, in October 2021, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), introduced the Veterans Dental Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act (SB 3017).

If passed and signed into law, the bill would require the VA to maintain a dental clinic in every state within one year of its enactment. Also, it would create a loan reimbursement program for qualified dentists who practice within the VA for at least five years in a location with heavy demand.

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