The 117th Congress is in full swing and while all eyes have been focused on the recently enacted COVID-19 relief package, we have also seen lawmakers introduce a number of oral health related bills. These proposals signal that many in Congress recognize the need to close dental coverage gaps and address longstanding inequities. 

Most recently, Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Cory Booker introduced the Oral Health for Moms Act, which would lift policy barriers that keep oral health care from pregnant and post-partum people, and advance equity in oral health. Specifically, this bill would: 

  • Require comprehensive dental benefits as part of pregnancy-related coverage in Medicaid & the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This guarantee would ensure that oral health care is available to all pregnant and post-partum people who rely on these programs through at least 60 days post-partum. 

  • Establish oral health services for pregnant and post-partum people as an essential health benefit in the health insurance marketplaces and the individual and small group markets nationwide. 

  • Establish an initiative within the Indian Health Service to improve maternal oral health and access to pregnancy-related care among American Indian and Alaska Native adults and their children.  

  • Invest in a new core set of oral health quality measures for pregnant people enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. It would require state reporting on these data, as well as coverage and access to services. Doing so can help policymakers see where resources would be most effective. The bill would also direct MACPAC to report on the oral health coverage needs of pregnant or postpartum people, and innovative solutions to meet them. 

  • Establish programs to improve oral health among pregnant and postpartum parents and their children. Under the measure, a new oral health outreach program would bolster oral health education and connect people to coverage and care. The bill would also fund grants to improve maternal/oral health integration and education among maternal health providers, including doulas and community health workers who serve pregnant and post-partum people.  

In addition to the Oral Health for Moms Act, Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have re-introduced the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA) Act. It is a broader maternal health bill that includes similar oral health coverage provisions for pregnant and postpartum people in Medicaid and CHIP. Rep. Robin Kelly plans to re-introduce this bill in the House of Representatives.  

We hope that Congress will take up legislation to require comprehensive dental coverage for all adults enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare and marketplace coverage. But these bills represent a huge step in the right direction and recognize the importance of oral health in addressing disparities in maternal health outcomes.  

Other recent oral health bills include: 

  • The Ensuring Kids Have Access to Medically Necessary Dental Care Act: Introduced by Sens. Ben Cardin and Stabenow, this bill would improve the affordability of dental services in CHIP. It would also provide wrap-around dental coverage to income-eligible children who have private health insurance but lack dental benefits. 

  • Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2021Introduced in both the House and Senate by Rep. Nanette Barragán and Sen. Cardin, respectively, this bill would eliminate existing statutory restrictions on dental services in Medicare and gradually phase in a comprehensive Medicare Part B dental benefit. 

  • Dental Care for Veterans ActRe-introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley, this bill would eliminate eligibility restrictions for dental care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It would make dental care part of the standard package of benefits provided to all eligible veterans. 

The consequences of dental disease are far-reaching, threatening our overall health, wellbeing and economic security. Access to dental care has proven that much more urgent amid the pandemic. In addition to interfering in financial stability, poor oral health raises the risk of death among people with COVID-19It is heartening to see lawmakers start this congressional session by prioritizing measures to expand access to services and undo longstanding systemic inequities that have kept good oral health out of reach for so many. We hope to see increased attention to oral health by both Congress and the Biden-Harris administration as both continue to focus on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.