WASHINGTON – The White House is trying to shorten projections from federal health officials that it could take several years for American seniors to benefit from Democrats’ push for free dental coverage, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.
The administration and Congressional Democrats are hoping to approve legislation this fall as part of their $3.5 trillion budget plan that would expand the Medicare health insurance program to include free dental, vision, and hearing coverage.
But officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have said it could take in the range of three to five years to implement new dental benefits, six people said. The lengthy timeline threatens to diminish the political upside of the new benefits, which Democrats have seen as an immediate and tangible improvement in voters’ lives they could present to the public in the 2022 and 2024 elections. One person characterized the prediction of five years as CMS’s “worst case scenario” timeline.
Health officials have raised several potential hurdles to quick allocation of the new Medicare benefits. CMS has told senior Democrats that it will take time to vet thousands of new dentists before including them in the Medicare system, a process that could prove cumbersome and administratively difficult. CMS also has to devise a new pricing system for reimbursing dentists for the new Medicare procedures and products. These challenges will be greater given that CMS will be simultaneously tasked with expanding vision and hearing care for millions of American seniors and those with disabilities.