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Oral health, access to dental care essential to reform debate

"Health insurance reform" is central to economic recovery, President Obama told the nation in a televised news conference.

The ADA told President Obama and the U.S. Congress that any reform must address the nation's oral health and access to dental care.

Neither message is producing results if the measure is legislation, although the president and the Association appear to have Congress' ear. Both the White House and the American Dental Association had legislative success in the early days of the 111th Congress with reauthorization of state Child Health Insurance Program medical and dental expansions.

The policy dialogue barely mentions oral health but that doesn't mean the debate lacks relevance.

The White House seeks legislation to address the rising overall costs of care and to reduce the number of persons lacking health insurance coverage, but President Obama has been cautious about dictating the terms of health care reform legislation, leaving it to Congress to expand coverage and control costs.

The various measures in draft in five primary congressional committees have relevance to dentists and patients, and the Association has advised Congress on dozens of proposed amendments and offered dental-specific legislation to address problems of inadequate access to dental care, particularly for vulnerable populations.

"Is it your job to get a deal done?" a reporter asked President Obama at the July 22 White House news conference. "Absolutely it's my job," he replied. "I'm the president. And I think this has to get done."

"On behalf of the American Dental Association, which represents over 157,000 dentists nationwide, I would like to share our thoughts on how your administration can work towards improving America's oral health," the ADA president told the president of the United States.

"For too long we have ignored the dire unmet oral health needs of a growing number of Americans unable to access dental care due to economic status, geographic location or a myriad of other barriers. The ADA is adamant that improving access to dental care for those most in need be the focus of any oral health component in a health care reform proposal," the Association told the president and the Congress.

The policy dialogue continues.