“Our current health system treats the mouth as separate from the rest of the body leading people to forgo care or assume significant medical debt to address oral health issues. We are urging Congress to move quickly on solutions.”  

(Boston, MA) – Today, Community Catalyst delivered a letter signed by over 100 national, state and local organizations representing a broad range of interests – from community-based organizations, oral health advocates, provider groups and the dental industry – urging Congress to standardize adult dental benefits. This action would address the growing burden of dental debt amongst U.S. households and expand the oral health workforce to address oral health inequities. 

“There is a significant oral health equity gap in the country which inhibits both the health and economic prosperity of individuals and families,” said Colin Reusch, Director of Policy at Community Catalyst. “Our current health system treats the mouth as separate from the rest of the body, leading people to forgo care or assume significant medical debt to address oral health issues. Initial congressional efforts to address this inequity are promising. We and 100-plus partners are urging Congress to move quickly on solutions.” 

In a letter to congressional leadership, the national coalition expressed strong support for: mandatory Medicaid adult dental benefits; adding dental services as an Essential Health Benefit (EHB); a comprehensive Medicare dental benefit; and the addition of dental therapists into existing federal health workforce programs to help address the dire gap in provider availability nationwide. 

Currently, adult dental benefits in Medicaid are optional and vary drastically state-by-state. Routine adult dental services are excluded from Medicare and the federal Essential Health Benefits package for private plans. These coverage gaps, coupled with dental workforce shortages, result in dental care presenting the greatest cost barriers of any health care service.  

Almost 40% of dental care costs are paid out-of-pocket and recent polling shows that 33% of voters say they have recently forgone dental care due to cost. As a result, dental debt contributes to broader medical debt for about half of adults who incur it. Additionally, about 30% of older adults have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL), with higher poverty rates among older people of color and Tribal communities. People with disabilities are twice as likely to experience poverty than those without a disability. And due to structural racism and resultant long-standing economic inequities, Black and Hispanic people with disabilities have the highest rates of poverty and are more likely to have debt as a result of dental or other medical bills and face greater barriers to accessing dental care, in general.  

A recent poll conducted by Community Catalyst and HIT Strategies highlights why these policies are so crucial. While cost of living (52%) and the economy (49%) top the list of voter concerns initially, 66% say insurance coverage of dental care would ease their living expenses, with 37% predicting a big impact. Additionally, 68% believe policies preventing medical debt would affect their cost of living. 

For decades, Community Catalyst has worked alongside Tribal, state and community partners to advance community-led solutions that address oral health inequities, which includes the expansion of dental therapists. More recently, Community Catalyst organized 50+ groups, ran petitions and highlighted stories of people impacted by a lack of dental care in efforts urging the Biden administration to make dental care an essential health benefit.  

You can learn more about our work, Essential Health Benefits and new opportunities for states to expand coverage on our website.  


About Community Catalyst: 
Community Catalyst is a national organization dedicated to building the power of people to create a health system rooted in race equity and health justice, and a society where health is a right for all. We’re an experienced, trusted partner to organizations across the country, a change agent to policymakers at the local, state, and national level, and both an adversary and a collaborator to health systems in our efforts to advance health justice. We partner with local, state and national organizations and leaders to leverage and build power so that people are at the center of important decisions about health and health care, whether they are made by health care executives, in state houses, or on Capitol Hill. Together with partners, we’re building a powerful, united movement with a shared vision of and strategy for a health system accountable to all people. Learn more at communitycatalyst.org.