September 26, 2019

ABA Urges Dental Benefit in Medicare

By Carole Fleck
ABA supports a dental benefit in Medicare.

ABA supports a dental benefit in Medicare.

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 1.)

A resolution, sponsored by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging and the Senior Lawyers Division, passed overwhelmingly by the ABA House of Delegates at the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco in August. It calls for lawmakers to support legislation that would repeal the statutory exclusion of dental care and dentures from Medicare and add coverage of comprehensive dental and oral health services to the program.

Louraine Arkfeld, chair of the Commission on Law and Aging, told the House of Delegates that oral health is critical to the overall health and wellbeing of older adults. Yet many go without dental insurance because they can't afford it. Studies show that poor dental health can lead to or worsen medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“How many of you know that 70 percent of all seniors have no dental care coverage?” Arkfeld said. “It is very expensive. We need to continue to stand behind our seniors in need.” 

Medicare does not cover dental and oral health benefits for beneficiaries in most cases. The Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2019 was introduced in the Senate to repeal the exclusion and expand Medicare Part B benefits to cover dental and oral health care services. A related bill, the Medicare Dental, Vision and Hearing Benefit Act of 2019, was introduced in the House and also would increase Medicare dental benefits.

Another resolution that passed overwhelmingly encourages attorneys who provide estate planning services to include counseling for advance care planning that conforms with principles developed through a John A. Hartford Foundation-funded project. As part of the project, the Commission on Law and Aging tasked more than 30 legal and clinical experts with examining how advance care planning practices of lawyers and clinicians could better align. The resolution encourages attorneys who provide advance care planning to consider greater collaboration with medical providers and the health care system.

Arkfeld said the COLA project could better ensure that clients and patients make their values, goals and wishes known and honored near the end of life.