Lawmakers look to improve an overlooked area of health care in 2024: dental coverage Photo by Drazen.

At the end of the first week of the 2024 General Assembly, the House Health and Government Operations Committee had dozens of bills before it addressing changes to Maryland’s health system. But several proposals would impact an often overlooked area of ​​health: dental care.

Committee Chairwoman Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George's) said more legislation covering dental care may be filed as the session continues.

Among the legislation already filed is a measure that would study whether the state can provide more dental services to low-income Marylanders. Another bill would require elementary and middle school students to have proof of good dental health before entering Maryland's public school system.

According to the American Dental Association's 2023 report, approximately 22.8% of adults ages 19 to 64 nationwide did not have dental insurance in 2021, while 15.7% had a public dental plan. The remaining 61.4% were enrolled in private dental plans.

“Oral health is a component of health that is important to maintaining and maintaining a person's oral health, and it is directly related to quality of life,” said Mary Buckley, CEO of the Maryland Dental Action Alliance. “It is related to overall health, diabetes management and mental health are directly related. People feel better when their personal oral health is taken care of.

She also said that oral health can also affect employment.

The Dental Alliance (MDAC) has worked to highlight the importance of quality oral health and support legislation to create better access to dental care.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, oral health is viewed differently or as separate from overall health because it is part of health,” she said.

One of their most recent efforts included encouraging lawmakers to extend Medicaid dental coverage to adults, a plan that passed during the 2022 legislative session. The program launches in January 2023.

“Over 11 months, more than 170,000 adults received care through expanded comprehensive coverage,” Buckley said.

But she said more needs to be done to improve oral health in Maryland. Those with dental insurance may still struggle to get an appointment due to a lack of transportation, or find it difficult to get off work to get to an appointment.

For those who may not qualify for government dental plans and do not have coverage through an employer, Maryland Health Connect, the Maryland health insurance marketplace, also offers individual dental plans.

Open registration period ends Monday at 11:59 p.m.

Some members of the Maryland Legislature are also looking to improve dental health in the state as the 2024 session begins last week.

Submit a dental care bill

House Bill 103, sponsored by Del. Heather Bagnall (D-Anne Arundel), would study the feasibility of including new services under Maryland’s low-income Maryland Dental Health Plan, known as the Maryland Healthy Smiles Dental Plan.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states are required to provide dental services to people under the age of 21 on Medicaid, but states can decide whether to provide dental services to Medicaid recipients over the age of 21.

Under 2022 legislation, Maryland will provide dental coverage to adults with comprehensive Medicaid coverage through the Maryland Healthy Smiles Dental Program. Eligible participants receive free routine dental services such as teeth cleanings, X-rays, root canals and tooth extractions.

However, costs associated with full or partial dentures are not currently included.

HB 103, if it becomes law, would prompt the Maryland Department of Health to study providing denture services through the Healthy Smiles Program and study potential reimbursement rates.

The study will also examine the feasibility of reimbursement on a per-patient basis for visits to and extended care facility calls. The Department of Health will report its findings to the Health and Government Operations Committee by December 1.

Another bill under consideration is House Bill 167, sponsored by Del. Andrea Fletcher Harrison (D-Prince George's), which would require school-age children to have a “certificate of dental health” to attend Maryland State public schools.

Harrison initially filed the bill in 2020, but it never received a vote in committee. According to a legislative analysis when the bill was first introduced, “Dental health is critical not only to the health of your teeth and gums, but also to your overall health.”

Proof of dental health will comply with other health requirements for students enrolling in public schools for the first time, such as physical exams and vaccinations.

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