Dental coverage for Medicare recipients divides parties

Lawmakers are split along party lines on a proposal to include dental coverage for all Medicare recipients included in Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

Speaking at The Hill’s “Future of Medicare and Oral Health” event on Wednesday, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) called dental care “a crucial part of health care” and “not a luxury.”

“There is a lot of support for providing dental coverage. Unfortunately, depending on who you talk to, it comes down to a conversation on cost. ‘Can we afford it?’ ” Barragán, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

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“Part of the problem in the United States is we focus too much on being reactionary. Instead of preventive care that’s gonna save us money in the long run … it comes down to cost,” added Barragán, who introduced the Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2021 that’s slated to be part of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill in the House.

Some Democrats had hoped to bring the $3.5 trillion spending bill, a key part of President BidenJoe BidenPfizer CEO says vaccine data for those under 5 could be available by end of year Omicron coronavirus variant found in at least 10 states Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles MORE’s Build Back Better agenda, to the House floor this week for a vote. But after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level MORE (D-Calif.) announced Monday night that the bill would no longer be linked to passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, it’s unlikely that the House will vote on either bill this week.

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Barragán, whose congressional district is among the poorest in the state, said that the Medicare Dental Benefit Act would improve quality of life for many of her constituents. 

“We’re talking about a district that’s the fourth poorest in the state of California,” she said during Wednesday’s event, sponsored by CareQuest Institute for Oral Health. “We’re talking about the folks that really cannot afford a $400 bill, which is very easy to get if you see a dentist. This bill will be critically important for them to get access to dental coverage.”

Republican Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Drew FergusonAnderson (Drew) Drew FergusonGOP beginning to jockey for post-election leadership slots Democrats face growing storm over IRS reporting provision Dental coverage for Medicare recipients divides parties MORE (D-Ga.), who practiced dentistry in rural Georgia for two decades before being elected to Congress, on Wednesday called the Medicare Dental Benefit Act “a majorly flawed product,” and voiced concerns over its financial viability for dentists. 

“While we recognize that providing care to seniors is important, what we’re seeing in this bill is a bill that doesn’t fund this fully until eight years down the road,” he said at Wednesday’s event, referring to the legislation’s 2028 implementation date. “It puts immense pressure on the current Medicare system and there are no additional revenues to help support this in the short term.”