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Ohio Advocates Want Budget Bill To Put Money Into Dental Coverage In Medicare

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They're hoping the big budget reconciliation package will include money to expand Medicare to include dental visits and oral care.

The $3.5 billion reconciliation bill in Congress would expand Medicare to include vision, hearing and dental coverage. That has activists for low-income and minority groups and older people pushing for that expansion, especially with dental coverage, which can be expensive and hard to access.

Advocates say dental disease can be connected to other problems; for instance, people with poor dental health are more likely to have heart disease and complications from diabetes, and can end up in emergency rooms because of lack of preventative dental care.

Former Cincinnati Health Department dental director Lawrence Hill is with Ohioans for Dental Equity and heads the American Association for Community Dental Programs. He says many older people think Medicare covers dental visits.

“For all intents and purposes, there is no dental coverage under Medicare. What little there is is poorly understood by dentists and frankly by Medicare. And so, virtually there is no coverage," Hill said.

Access to dentists is also a big problem in some parts of the state. Hill notes Ohio has 100 areas with dental professional shortages.

“There are counties in Ohio that have no dentists. There are counties in Ohio that have dentists but none that accept public programs. There are counties in Ohio that have no safety net dental clinics, federally subsidized dental clinics," Hill said.

Ohio is not among the dozen states with laws allowing dental therapists to operate like nurse practitioners do in assisting doctors.

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