Dental Data Highlight

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Dental Data Highlight

Dental Services Among Medicare Beneficiaries: Source of Payment and Out-of-Pocket Spending

Oral health is an important aspect of general health and wellbeing. Poor oral health is linked with respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. The relationship between poor dental health and disease is especially relevant for vulnerable populations, such as individuals with disabilities or the elderly.

Although Medicare does cover dental services that are an essential part of a medical procedure such as jaw surgery, routine dental services, including exams, checkups, and cleanings, are not covered by Medicare. Beneficiaries must pay for these routine services directly out-of-pocket (OOP), or rely on dental coverage through private plans or Medicaid. This lack of dental coverage can be a barrier to seeking dental care for beneficiaries. More than half of all beneficiaries do not use any dental services in a given year.

This data highlight examines sources of payment and OOP spending for dental services among Medicare beneficiaries for two time periods, 2002 and 2012, and by select beneficiary characteristics. The analysis uses the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) which has been widely used to study total Medicare costs and health care utilization, but comparatively little research has been done on the dental information collected in the survey. The MCBS collects detailed self-reported information on different sources of payment for a dental event.

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