Earlier this month, Congressmember Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced the Foster Youth Dental Act of 2020. The legislation attempts to strengthen dental coverage under the Medicaid program for young people in foster care by expanding eligibility, providing incentives for dental providers, enhancing outreach efforts for enrollment, and protecting existing coverage for foster youth.


Youth enrolled in Medicaid/CHIP have access to oral health care, but the utilization of oral care services varies by state, and many young people in this category fall through the coverage gaps. Oral health care is often treated as optional coverage. Tooth decay is the most common chronic condition among children. Congressperson Bass points out that dental pain is a common reason for school absence, and dental decay is linked to many other health problems. The Foster Youth Dental Act seeks to improve the continuity of oral health care services for current and eligible former foster youth by expanding the age requirement and providing incentives for dental providers to serve eligible youth.


At introduction, Congressperson Bass, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Youth, said, “Especially in the midst of a global pandemic, it falls incumbent upon Congress to do everything we can to ensure we are providing the nearly half of a million youth in this country’s child welfare system with adequate health care.”   


The legislation would increase eligibility by expanding Medicaid eligibility from 21 years old to 25 years of age for young people who are eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage for youth formerly in foster care; provide incentives for dental providers by making Medicaid reimbursement rate for oral health services equal to state’s median private sector dental payment rate; enhance outreach efforts for youth enrollment in Medicaid by having states establish an outreach and enrollment program; and protect existing coverage for foster youth by ensuring that foster youth who move between states don’t lose their Medicaid dental health insurance. You can read the full text of the bill here.


Access to dental coverage through Medicaid and the uninsured can be a great and significant challenge, especially for children. This issue gained Washington’s and the nation’s attention in 2007 when Maryland resident Deamonte Driver, age 12, died because his family had difficulty in maintaining Medicaid coverage and finding a provider that would accept Medicaid. An abscess in Deamonte’s tooth spread the infection to his brain, and he died as a result of tooth decay. After that tragedy, the late Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) introduced legislation to address the lack of access.