While the U.S. Senate remains at a standstill on a much-needed COVID-19 relief package, states increasingly face significant budget shortfalls moving into 2021. Without additional federal aid, state resources are unlikely to keep pace with the demand on health care, unemployment insurance and other support systems in the wake of the current coronavirus surge. This would do real harm to people just struggling to survive in the pandemic. Individuals covered by Medicaid may start to lose needed health services – starting with cuts to oral health care. Federal lawmakers must invest in states at this critical moment. 

The Trump administration has already sought to weaken protections for people covered by Medicaid by undermining the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. A gap in federal support may leave many more individuals with low incomes without needed care. This crisis would also exacerbate existing inequities already compounded by the pandemic. 

As Community Catalyst has previously highlighted, Medicaid dental coverage and access to oral health care are especially at risk when states face budget crises. The oral health advocacy community has urged Congress to provide additional financial support to state Medicaid programs, including increased federal matching funds for oral health services. Such support is critical to maintaining current levels of coverage and supporting states that have recently expanded Medicaid dental benefits for adults. 

However, in lieu of action by Congress and facilitated by recent CMS guidance, states like Washington and Wyoming have already begun discussing cuts to these essential services.  

Losing access to oral health care at any point can make it more difficult for people to manage related chronic conditions like diabetes. But such cuts could be especially dangerous today as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions affected by oral health put people at greater risk for complications associated with COVID-19. In addition, we know that untreated oral health problems can affect a person’s employment and economic mobility 

As we transition to a new administration and Congress, policymakers should work quickly to provide much-needed support to state Medicaid programs. They must act before states move forward with short-sighted cuts that could do lasting harm to their residents’ health and economic well-being.