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MyView: Strengthening coverage through our partnership

February 19, 2018
Photo of Meg Booth
Meg Booth
 Photo of Dr. Panagakos
Foti Panagakos, D.M.D., Ph.D.
The parents and caregivers of the nearly 9 million children who receive dental coverage through the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, are breathing much easier now. After 113 days without federal funding, the CHIP program was extended for 10 years. The government affairs staff and many members of the American Dental Association played a crucial role in this happy ending.

At the federal and state level, diverse coalitions are essential to ensure that oral health issues aren't left on the backburner. Over the past 12 months, the Children's Dental Health Project and the ADA have worked more closely than ever to articulate that dental coverage is a critical foundation for better oral health. Through that shared understanding, we've sought to help policymakers better understand oral health and the integral role it plays in overall health, quality of life and economic mobility. In addition, the Children's Dental Health Project and ADA worked with stakeholders across the country to protect dental coverage for millions of Americans.

The Children's Dental Health Project's 20th anniversary has prompted us to look closely at the gains in coverage and access over the last two decades. As we reflect on 2017, our collaboration with the ADA on CHIP began long before the current session of Congress. Indeed, our organizations met with allies and established two core principles that shaped our mutual request for Congress to make dental coverage a guaranteed part of CHIP in 2009. The comprehensive coverage that is embodied within CHIP attests to the initial and careful planning that our organizations did.

While we do not take our collaboration for granted, this time we made it more visible to others. Last February, the Children's Dental Health Project and the ADA co-sponsored a briefing for members of Congress and their staff. As the debate over health coverage moved into high gear, both of our organizations wanted Congress to fully understand the impact of proposals that had been introduced. In particular, certain proposals would have resulted in significant cuts to state Medicaid programs and put dental coverage in danger.

Also in February, a timely study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association amplified the message that our two organizations delivered on Capitol Hill. The study showed that being insured (private or public insurance) was associated with children having more dental appointments and fewer unmet dental needs. Simply put: Coverage matters.

Last June, the ADA and Children's Dental Health Project co-authored a letter that 45 oral health organizations signed, encouraging Congressional leaders to reject "drastic funding cuts and structural changes to the oral health system" that could undermine the gains that families have made in securing dental coverage and accessing care. In our meetings with congressional leaders, we emphasized the need to continue expanding — rather than rolling back — access to oral health care.

In September, as the expiration of CHIP funding loomed, the ADA and Children's Dental Health Project led more than 140 other oral health stakeholders in a statement urging Congress to extend the program. Even when CHIP expired, we didn't let this disappointment distract us. Our organizations continued to pursue ways to revive hopes for a CHIP extension, building a positive dialogue with House and Senate members on both sides of the aisle.

A few days before the vote extending CHIP, a Wisconsin mother of three cited the importance of the dental benefits in CHIP. "I am so grateful for the dental coverage my children have," Jessica Bigboy told CDHP. "They see the importance of oral hygiene. We're lucky they haven't had any serious problems. With [CHIP], they have been provided with sealants, fluoride treatments, checkups and cleanings to prevent tooth decay and gum disease."

As the executive director and board chair of the Children's Dental Health Project, both of us value the relationship we have developed with the ADA to ensure that the oral health needs of families are not overlooked in Washington. As CHIP's future remained uncertain, dentists were among the many individuals who emailed or phoned their elected representatives and educated them about the power of coverage.

Securing 10 more years of CHIP funding is not the end of our collaboration with the ADA. Our organizations will continue to work with other dental organizations and oral health advocates at the national level to identify and advance common goals on Capitol Hill.

This is easy to say because each year many coalitions are formed in Washington, but not all of them stick together. What makes this partnership special is that it has the potential to put millions of children and families on a trajectory of better oral health.

We know we're not always going to agree on solutions to every policy problem. Nonetheless, we're identifying areas of consensus where working together can advance our shared goals. CHIP is a shining example of what we can accomplish together. Thank you to the ADA for helping to stabilize dental coverage for families.

Meg Booth is the executive director of the Children's Dental Health Project, a nonprofit policy institute in Washington, D.C. Dr. Foti Panagakos, Ph.D., is the chair of the Children's Dental Health Project Board of Directors and a member of the ADA Foundation Board of Directors.