January, 25 2021- Ten years ago, state funding for dental benefits in the MassHealth program was cut as part of an effort to manage state budget shortfalls during the last recession. The result was a lack of access to dental care for people all across the state.
Since then, Health Care For All (HCFA), along with coalition partners, consumers and legislators have worked to restore dental coverage in the MassHealth program. Over a million residents rely on MassHealth for their health and well-being. Over the last decade, dental coverage has been incrementally restored, practically “tooth by tooth.” After years of legislative advocacy, MassHealth started covering fillings, dentures and treatment for gum disease, but some key services were still excluded. Finally, earlier this month, the legislature approved funding for the last missing components to fully restore dental benefits in the program: coverage for root canal services and crowns. It came down to the wire, and happened only after the House and Senate overrode the Governor’s veto of the budget line item.
Those with MassHealth will no longer be forced to face a tooth extraction because it was the only course of treatment covered. Having good oral health is critical to an individual’s ability to maintain a healthy diet, as well as their dignity and ability to work. With access to appropriate dental care, many people living with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension will now be able to rely on MassHealth coverage to keep their whole body healthy. HCFA believes that the mouth is part of the body, that full dental coverage is critical to overall health, and that everyone in the Commonwealth should have access to these vital services regardless of their income.
HCFA is grateful for the House and Senate leadership and their staff for taking this bold action to ensure access to critical oral health care for hundreds of thousands of people. In particular, this would not have happened without the leadership of House Ways and Means Chair Michlewitz who spearheaded the effort by including the funding in the Ways and Means Committee’s initial budget proposal.
There is still much to do to address oral health disparities in the Commonwealth, and we look forward to continuing to work together with our allies and partners in the coming year to advocate for equitable access to dental care for everyone in Massachusetts.