With the news this evening that the Governor will sign the sales tax increase as part of the budget package, due to be signed Monday, the likelihood of the Governor finding budget savings by vetoing spending for MassHealth adult dental coverage lessened substantially.
Still, the threat is there. The Governor’s revised budget submission called for elimination of dental care for adults in both MassHealth and Commonwealth Care. This would affect over 700,000 people, including more than 120,000 low-income seniors and 180,000 disabled individuals. Secretary Kirwan reminded the public at the Connector Board meeting yesterday that even with the sales tax, the budget situation is precarious. Today’s news that Treasurer Cahill neglected back in May to inform House and Senate budget writers that $25 million in anticipated lottery revenue would not be arriving adds to the ongoing crisis.
Oral health is an essential part of overall health, and it is also critical to health reform. Denying over 600,000 people access to oral health care leaves part of the body uncovered, and sends the wrong message about our commitment to health reform and access as the nation turns its eyes to Massachusetts to lead the way to health care reform.
The Washington Post wrote about this on Tuesday:
Among adults, oral cancer kills more Americans than cervical cancer, and research suggests that oral infections can affect pregnancy outcomes and complicate chronic diseases such as diabetes. Still, 82 million adults have no dental insurance.
As the Obama administration rolls out its massive health-care reform effort, many dental-health experts worry that a golden opportunity is being missed. “Is oral health care getting enough attention in the current health-care reform discussion? The fast answer is no, and the door is closing,” said Yolanda Bonta, a New Jersey dentist who is active in the national Hispanic Dental Association. …
Burton Edelstein, a professor of dentistry and health policy management at Columbia University, says it has been “very challenging” to try to join the debate: “The mouth,” he said, “is the only body part or essential organ that is excluded from policymakers’ routine consideration of health and health care.”
Closing the gap between the worlds of dental care and medical care, with their separate histories and cultures, and their separate finance and delivery systems would be a formidable task. Edelstein, who is the founding chairman of the nonprofit Children’s Dental Health Project, sees a glimmer of hope in the inclusion of several dental provisions in the 615-page first draft of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee’s health-care reform bill.
The draft includes dental care in a list of benefits that children should receive and cites the importance of disease prevention and surveillance, safety net programs, and changes in the dental workforce and public-health infrastructure.
Cutting MassHealth dental coverage also means the loss of federal funds. With federal reimbursement exceeding 60% for next year, the loss of federal revenue will hurt our economic growth. When dental services were eliminated under Governors Swift and Romney, spending increased in other health accounts.
Call the Governor Today to Protect Basic Health Care Services
Call 617-725-4005 to reach Governor Patrick’s Office. You can find talking points here.
-Brian Rosman and Courtney Chelo