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Report Verifies Older Americans Often Lack Dental Insurance

Photo Credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/Thinkstock
Photo Credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/Thinkstock

Just 12% of older Americans have access to dental insurance, and less than 50% of this population visited an oral health professional in the prior year, notes a survey from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Published in Health Affairs, the report, “Dental Care and Medicare Beneficiaries: Access Gaps, Cost Burdens and Policy Options,” provides a stark look at the reality faced by many older adults.

The analysis included data from 11,299 respondents to a 2012 Cost and Use Files of the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey. Insurance status was the greatest predictor of whether an individual received oral care. For example, only 27% of those without dental insurance visited the dentist within the prior year, compared to 65% of those with dental insurance. Similarly, patients with high incomes were more likely to receive dental care than low-income beneficiaries.

These statistics highlight an unmet need for dental insurance — especially among patients 65 and older. The survey authors suggest that Medicare focus on overall health, including oral health care, to close the barriers to care that exist for 49 million Medicare recipients. Medicare beneficiaries reported spending an average of $427 on dental care in the prior year, while 7% spent more than $1500. On average, dental care accounted for 14% of Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket health spending.

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