Congressman Horsford Opening Statement for Subtitle E Relating to Medicare Dental, Hearing, and Vision Coverage at Markup of the Build Back Better Act

Sep 10, 2021
Press Release

(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon, and thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this important and historic markup today.

For many Americans, older age looks grim as they are unable to make ends meet in retirement. 

The reality is, most older Americans and individuals with disabilities, will not be able to pay for the things they need the most—that includes dental, vision, and hearing care.

Right now, older adults are suffering because Medicare doesn't cover essential parts of their health care.

Lacking access to dental, hearing, and vision care can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, including diabetes, risk of falls, depression, and dementia, among many others.

Think about it this way: a doctor can prescribe costly medications for older Medicare beneficiaries who cannot get dinner, or perhaps even eat dinner because of dental decay.

Dental, vision, and hearing health is an essential part of overall health.

In the 56 years since Medicare became law, only a few benefits have been added to the package, even as Americans have lived longer and experienced more complicated health issues as a result.

Among Medicare beneficiaries, 75 percent of people who need a hearing aid do not have one; 70 percent of people who had trouble eating because of their teeth did not go to the dentist in the past year; and 43 percent of people who had trouble seeing did not have an eye exam in the past year.

Filling the coverage gap by investing in hearing, vision, and dental benefits will improve beneficiary health, improve quality of life, and reduce Medicare spending in the long term.

This is exactly the type of investment we should be making for America’s older adult population and those with disabilities, and I support this investment.

That is why I introduced the Medicare Dental Coverage Act, along with my colleague Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois, which is being considered today, to give Nevada’s 300,000 seniors and millions around the country access to affordable dental care and addresses long-standing barriers to care.

Nearly half of all Medicare beneficiaries, and more than two-thirds of Black and Hispanic beneficiaries, have not been to the dentist in the last year – and this is not due to lack of need.

Without affordable dental, vision, and hearing coverage through Medicare, Nevada seniors and those with disabilities are forced to choose between high out-of-pocket costs or a lower quality of life.

That is the story of Ms. Florence Hall, a 66-year-old constituent who has been on Medicare since 1999.

While she has been able to access basic healthcare services, she has had severe difficulties accessing dental care.

In 2019, she had to make an emergency visit to the dentist after experiencing pain in her mouth.

She came to find out that most of the roots in her teeth were rotten and were septic. Since she didn’t have regular care, basic signs of decay were missed.

Since her dental services weren’t covered, she had a very large out-of-pocket bill of $10,000.

Thankfully, the dentist was able to reduce the bill to $5,000 due to her income limits, she had to get help from family to pay for a portion of it and she also had to open a line of credit to cover the additional costs.

Democrats and Republicans alike should be able to agree that there is no excuse for not helping older Americans afford the care they need.

Devoting funds to expand Medicare coverage and protect seniors and people living with disabilities will save and improve lives.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. included the phrase “the fierce urgency of now.”

All who serve older adults have an obligation and an opportunity to act now.

We can do better now, and we should. I urge all of my colleagues in this committee to support the bill in front of us today so we can finally provide dental, hearing, and vision coverage to our older Americans and individuals with disabilities.