It’s near impossible to turn on the news these days and not hear something about the planned health care overhaul. The focus however is usually on health care and dental care is but an afterthought. This is particularly unfortunate because while the high cost of medical attention may keep millions away from seeing their doctor on a regular basis, it also keeps more than 100 million Americans away from seeing a dentist on a regular basis – the danger of this cannot be taken lightly. Like with health care, a key to dental care is taking preventative measures.
Just a few weeks ago Chief Justice John Roberts decided that he was siding with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Elena Kagan to uphold the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA – known as Obamacare), and the courts also ruled on the law’s expansion of Medicaid, deciding that States still control who has access to coverage and that the federal government cannot withhold funding or penalize states who don’t expand it to their liking in any other way. Now what does this all mean for dental care?
The ACA requires insurers to offer dental care for children, but not adults, which is particularly problematic for Baby Boomers with existing dental concerns. However the law outlines that it will provide additional funding to expand access for people who live in what they are calling “dental deserts,” which means areas of the U.S. where dentists are particularly hard to come by. About 15 percent of the U.S. population is currently considered to be living in such an area. Obamacare will also be funding national public-education programs on preventing oral diseases and they’ll be shelling out taxpayer money to support a program to better educate community-based providers of care.
The law has further allotted multimillion-dollar grants to establish training programs for alternative dental health care providers (think dental hygienists, dental therapists…). This will allow for more services, particularly in rural area, where people lack access to trained dentists. The training program will also allow for grants and loan repayment programs for dental students and other health professionals.
ObamaCare has already pumped out millions of dollars into Health & Dentistry, “private, nonprofit, federally qualified health centers with a mission to provide primary and preventive health care to all, including vulnerable populations.” Health & Dentistry offers a sliding fee scale for qualifying uninsured patients. The nominal fee for a medical visit for an uninsured patient whose total household income is at or below the federal poverty level is $20, while a dental visit will set patients back $25. The ACA has also set aside $11 billion for growth and expansion of community health centers to provide primary and preventative care.
While we still have ways to go before we see how this will all unfold, for the millions of Americans who have yet to make regular dental visits a feasible occurrence, this new program offers considerable hope.
Guest Blogger Shannon Firestone is a freelancer for http://www.topdentists.com/ and other healthcare media outlets.