Day 58 – Extending Dental Care to the Poor

One of the last considerations when one is deplete of cash, is dental care. As opposed to emergency health care which is by law provided to anyone who shows up.

In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) that prohibits a practice commonly known as patient dumping. The act gives individuals the right to emergency care regardless of their ability to pay. In a nutshell, the federal patient-dumping law entitles you to three things: Screening, Emergency care and Appropriate transfers.

Further, The Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”, was developed to help individuals access affordable health insurance through a health insurance marketplace where Americans can purchase federally regulated and subsidized health insurance during open enrollment.

However, finding affordable dental care is not so simple. Medicare dental coverage is limited; it does not cover most routine dental care or dentures. Medicaid is a state-run program that provides medical benefits, and in some cases dental benefits, but usually only for limited emergency dental services and for people under the age of 21.

In total, 74 million Americans have no dental coverage, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. That’s around 23% of the population, or more than double the percentage that lacks health insurance.

Dental care poses financial challenges to more people than does any other type of health-care service, regardless of age, insurance type or income. 19% of beneficiaries who used dental services spent more than $1,000 out-of-pocket on dental care. With half of Medicare beneficiaries living on less than $26,200 per year, this is a significant portion of their incomes.

Poor dental health is pervasive for the homeless and impoverished. Cost is only one factor. For older adults on a fixed income, oral health may compete for priority alongside chronic health conditions or illnesses. Transportation poses another potential barrier, as does cognitive function, which can deteriorate with age. Minorities and foreign-born people were even less likely to seek out care.

Bad oral health also contributes to many other health issues including Cardiovascular Disease, Respiratory Infections, Diabetes, Infertility, Erectile Dysfunction, Cancers, Kidney Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Pregnancy Complications and Dementia. See Article. 

No-cost/low-cost options are limited but can be found by those willing to hunt, persist and have ample patience for the process.  A few alternatives are listed below.  

Access and availability to no/low cost dental facilities vary so widely from state to state and city to city, sometimes the best options are found performing a local search. In the Nashville market, the Interfaith Dental Clinic surfaced as the best alternative.