Monday, April 17, 2017

National Minority Health Month: A Thank You to Community Health Promoters

During National Minority Health Month, we’re calling attention to barriers many people must overcome to enjoy their best health, and the advocates who help them. 

One of our jobs as a leading health care organization is to help people understand what they need to do to stay healthy – and that starts with literacy.

Literacy skills are one of the strongest predictors of oral health status – stronger than age, income, employment status, education level, or racial/ethnic group.  It is estimated that at least a third of adults in the United States have limited health literacy and nearly half of all American adults - 90 million people - have difficulty understanding and using health information. Because of that, folks delay taking action, and before long, small problems become big health issues.  

Community health workers are stepping in to help people understand and navigate our health care system. It’s a very personal approach to health education. DentaQuest’s outreach team spends a lot of time in the community talking to people about oral health and explaining dental benefits and how to use them. National Minority Health Month gives us an opportunity to talk about the importance of community health workers — promotores*, or  outreach specialists. These committed team members are doing incredible work to bridge health equity across communities.

Community outreach specialists are hyper grassroots, frontline public health translators. Using the strength of their personality; personal contacts; trust; and an intimate understanding of the community’s strengths, needs and social networks, they tackle sensitive health topics, correct misinformation, and connect people with quality care.  In some parts of the United States, our certified promotores are at work in rural and urban areas at clinics, churches, workplaces, schools, and even around agricultural fields.

These outreach specialists are very important to achieving our goal of ending dental disease in children. An estimated 17 million low income children in the United States go without oral health care each year—that’s about one out of every five children. 

Outreach workers help figure out why that happens. It might be because the families don’t know they should seek dental care for the children. It could be because the caregivers don’t know where to find a dentist. And it could be that the parents simply fear going to the dentist and share that fear with their kids. Outreach workers calm fears, educate and guide caregivers, and help them navigate the complexities of our health care system. They introduce families to preventive services, and even check back to be sure treatments that are initiated get completed.

And it’s not just for children. Regular screenings and preventive education for people of all ages reduce poor health outcomes and health expenditures. Outreach specialists help adults understand systemic health – what smoking does to the body or how managing mouth disease helps control diabetes and heart disease, for instance. It’s the trusting relationship with the community that enables outreach specialists to cross the cultural divide and get people involved in disease prevention and wellness. This is a critical role, especially where language, transportation and cultural responses are barriers to health.

National Minority Health Month - with this year's theme of health equity - is an opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated work of our promotores / outreach specialists and to give thanks for their genuine servicio de corazon (service from the heart).

Thank you for all you do to advance health equity nationwide!

*Promotores de salud, also known as promotoras, is Spanish for “community health worker.” 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Prioritizing Our Seniors: Why Offering Medicare Dental Coverage Matters

More than 46 million seniors lack dental coverage, according to a 2015 report on enrollment from the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) and Delta Dental Plans Association (DDPA). And that number is only expected to rise with our burgeoning population of older adults.

In order to help more seniors get covered, U.S. federal policy must more effectively address the oral health needs of this population.

Recently, there have been several big news stories about the barriers 70 percent of seniors face to receive quality oral health care.

One major contributor is that dental care is not covered under Medicare. Boston College researchers found that the percentage of people with dental coverage declines by more than half in the 10 years after reaching retirement age -- from 62 percent at age 65 to 26 percent at 75. Why? According to CBS News, the study suggests the following...

The reason: When most workers retire, they lose the dental coverage provided by their employer or union. But doesn’t Medicare, which starts at age 65, step in and pick up the slack? Not on your canines, “a fact that a majority of baby boomers are unaware of…”

According to a recent survey of 2,000 registered U.S. voters conducted by DentaQuest via Morning Consult, this is not a partisan issue. In fact, 83 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats responded that dental coverage should be included in Medicare.

Without coverage, seniors face significant out-of-pocket costs to obtain appropriate oral health care, as they are more likely to need the most costly procedures, such as crowns, implants, or false teeth as they age. Seniors are also more likely to have chronic conditions that may complicate or exacerbate these oral health issues.

Because traditional Medicare does not provide dental coverage, Medicare Advantage plans are taking a lead in providing oral health coverage for seniors. In fact, DentaQuest partners with many of these plans because they recognize the importance of oral health to the overall health of older adults. However, these benefits are optional or supplemental and not all seniors can afford to pay out of pocket for this coverage.   

More affordable solutions are necessary to bridge this gap for our seniors.

With all of the discussion surrounding changes to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, policies to expand dental coverage have largely gone overlooked. However, DentaQuest has taken steps to begin addressing this gap.

A few weeks ago, the DentaQuest Foundation announced a $668,000 grant to Oral Health America to expand the Wisdom Tooth Project and increase advocacy for publicly funded dental coverage for seniors. This project focuses on five strategies including education for seniors and professionals and pilot demonstration projects to combat barriers to care. The DentaQuest Foundation has been pivotal in supporting Oral Health America’s efforts for older adult oral health since 2010.

As health care prepares to undergo substantial changes, industry stakeholders may support different proposals but our goal should remain the same. We echo AHIP’s comments that the industry must bond together “to ensure every American has access to affordable coverage and quality care so they can achieve their best health.”

Expanding access to health care, including oral health care, is a foundational pillar to achieve this goal.

We cannot leave our seniors behind.