Recently, seniors in Iowa, Michigan and Tennessee have mailed toothbrushes to congressional candidates with the message, “I Have Teeth and I Vote.” Healthcare organizations, led by Oral Health America, are leading a campaign called “Demand Medicare Dental” that advocates for Medicare to include oral health. On the campaign’s website, citizens of these states were able to research their congressional candidate’s views on this matter and encouraged to contact candidates to voice their support for the dental campaign.
So why should Congress expand Medicare to include dental coverage? Unknown to many retiring Americans, traditional Medicare does not cover routine dental checkups, cleanings, fillings and dentures. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a minuscule 12 percent of older Americans have some type of dental insurance. Furthermore, Johns Hopkins reports that Medicare beneficiaries spend about $328 a year in dental expenses, with 7 percent of beneficiaries spending more than $1,500. In the most extreme circumstances, older Americans are forced to travel to Mexico for more economical care.
Consequently, these types of financial barriers have greatly contributed to seniors suffering from tooth decay and periodontal disease. What makes this even more problematic is that deficient oral health care only makes other medical problems worse. For example, poor oral health can lead to difficulty eating and thus inadequate nutrition, which only exasperates health conditions like diabetes and hypertension. In addition, the bacteria which causes gum disease has a relationship with pneumonia, which causes more people to visit the hospital.
Fortunately, there is a proposal to expand Medicare Part B (outpatient services) to include oral health care. This program would be financed by small beneficiary monthly premiums and taxes. While Congress is usually loath to pass legislation that increases spending, I would be curious to learn how dental coverage through Medicare could reduce other healthcare-related costs. Amber Willink, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said, “As a consequence of avoidable dental problems, the Medicare program bears the cost of expensive emergency department visits and avoidable hospitalizations. It’s lose-lose.”
However, there is good news. Americans want change!
According to a Families USA survey, a whopping 86 percent of likely voters support including dental benefits with Medicare. Furthermore, according to the Health Policy Institute and the American Dental Association Practice Institute, 71 percent of dentists agree that Medicare should include dental coverage. The survey even indicates that a majority of dentists agree to abide by regular Medicare regulations.
Clearly, there is momentum for greater dental access for our nation’s elderly population. Look no further than our elected officials on Capitol Hill who are already supportive of expanding Medicare to include dental coverage.
Undecided members of Congress should be asking themselves why dental care is any less important than a yearly physical.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
Since the massacre in Pittsburgh, much has been written about how the Jewish community is coping with this horrific event. One article stuck in my head, as it shared a comment from a child who found inspiration from red Rogers, commonly known as Mr. Rogers of the still-popular Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers, who died in 2003, was the voice of children for decades, but his words resonated after the massacre because Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh was Mr. Rogers’ real neighborhood. The words that inspired the boy were not written for this tragedy, but in response to other acts of violence. Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
These are scary times for us all, and it will be particularly hard for many to find joy in the coming holiday season. While we gather with families and friends this Chanukah, there are many who will never have that joy again as their lives are forever changed by the loss of someone who was murdered because of hatred and violence.
This Chanukah, I want to salute these helpers, who are part of our community action efforts. As we use the Shamash candle to light the candles on the Chanukiah, have these helpers in mind. Their good deeds help bring light in a world that can be a dark and scary place.
I did not have to look far to find the helpers in B’nai B’rith, involved with programs that B’nai B’rith helped make possible. Here are some highlights of the activities of these wonderful people, who have made a difference in their community and show the spirit of helping.
This summer, we saw 100 helpers who were participating in the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) Fraternity’s Hineni program at their international convention become volunteers for the Sojourner Center in Phoenix, Arizona. These young men helped move and transform the center’s warehouse and facility that assist women who need shelter and others dealing with difficult life situations. The organizer’s message says it best: “Please share our gratitude with the volunteers one more time. Let them know that everyone was impressed by them, their interest in what we do, and their work ethic. They truly will be change makers in the future. I hope they are able to keep a meaningful conversation going about how we treat each other. As young leaders, they have the potential and the power to lessen the amount of domestic violence we see in our communities”.
The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund supported a community ravaged by wildfires with a donation to the Idyllwild Help Center. The center also had help from volunteers from the AEPi staff and the AEPi chapter at Pomona College to help them with their fire abatement clean-up. These volunteers also learned that helping makes a difference and is greatly appreciated. With the assistance of B’nai B’rith funding and hands on hard work, this small community shared its thanks and learned that there are people who care.
This fall, I had the honor to speak at the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Conference about community service projects that help provide food to people in need. Other speakers provided insight into how they engage volunteers and how the B’nai B’rith housing facilities provide the support residents need to access healthy food. Sharing insight into food collection programs, members of the B’nai B’rith Bagel Brigade described how the dynamic team of volunteers from the Greater San Fernando Valley Unit collect and delivers day-old baked goods to schools and shelters every day of the year.
Six years after Super Storm Sandy devastated parts of New York City, there is still a need to help families that have not been able to repair their homes after the damage. In November, young leaders from the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network in New York joined forces with the organization SBP-New York to help with this need. The young leaders worked on a renovation of a basement and garage, assisting with the demolition needed. They were guided by an AmericCorps team of experts, who helped with the renovation. The volunteers’ efforts helped the homeowner repair their home without the need to pay expensive fees for a contractor and helped move recovery ahead.
This year, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as has been done for decades, volunteers will visit veterans’ hospitals to bring some holiday cheer for the patients and thanks for the nurses on duty. There will be B’nai B’rith volunteers at other community care facilities to fill in for the volunteer posts that need coverage so that regular volunteers can be at home with their families.
There are countless other programs and volunteers who make helping others in their community a priority. In each and every community, there are B’nai B’rith volunteers who continue to fulfill the mission of our founders to care for those in need as they have done since its founding 175 years ago.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai brith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: