A new poll found that 70% of people surveyed agree dental benefits should be included in Medicare, as some Medicare Advantage (MA) plans include it as an extra benefit.
The poll conducted by the consumer group Families USA, and YouGov found that while support was high, a majority (59%) didn’t know Medicare didn’t already offer such benefits. The poll comes as some 2020 Democratic primary hopefuls have called for adding dental benefits to Medicare.
“They know their oral health is critical to their overall health, and it’s like the government is saying, ‘we don’t think you have teeth,’” said Patrick Willard, senior director of state and national strategic partnerships at Families USA, in a statement. “Well, most Americans now keep their teeth well into old age, and they need access to dental coverage in order to take care of them.”
The poll found that 24% of those surveyed somewhat favors including dental benefits in Medicare, and 46% heavily favor it. Overall, 8% said they oppose adding such benefits.
Medicare will only cover narrow types of dental work such as a jaw reconstruction surgery. It does not cover routine dental visits or procedures minor or major such as root canals or cavity fillings. Out of 57 million Medicare beneficiaries, 65% don’t have any dental coverage at all, according to a March analysis from the research firm Kaiser Family Foundation.
Another 49% haven’t been to the dentist in the past year, and 19% spent more than $1,000 out of pocket on dental care, the analysis found.
Even Medicare beneficiaries who have dental coverage through their MA plan or another supplemental plan face stiff out-of-pocket costs. Across all beneficiaries, the average out-of-pocket spending on dental care was $469 in 2016, Kaiser said.
Only 16% of beneficiaries have coverage via MA plans, while 9% have coverage on Medicaid, 8% through private plans and 2% through a combination of MA and Medicaid.
The poll was conducted as part of the Oral Health for All campaign that is spearheaded by Families USA and the oral health company DentaQuest. YouGov reached out to 1,000 likely voters nationwide earlier this month, and the poll has a margin of error of three percentage points.