Approximately 60 percent of Americans older than 50 have dental insurance and most will lose this coverage when they retire and face fixed or reduced incomes, according to the landmark U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health.
As the "Baby Boom Generation" inches closer to retirement, their ranks continue to swell the 50-plus population of the United States, which was about 27 percent in 2000; by 2020, that number will jump by more than 115 million to approximately 35 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
"As the 50-plus population continues to grow in numbers, and with the current lack of accessibility, there is a critical need for affordable dental insurance for this population, as well as public information focused on the importance of dental health as we age," said Dawn Sweeney, president of AARP Services, Inc.
To meet these needs, AARP, through its subsidiary AARP Services, Inc., has teamed with Delta Dental Insurance Company to create the AARP Dental Insurance Plan and to launch a dental care initiative targeting those who are 50-plus.
The AARP Dental Insurance Plan--featuring comprehensive family coverage and the freedom to choose any licensed dentist--will initially be available to AARP members in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Plans are to make the program available to all 35 million AARP members across the country by 2005.
"Our members have been asking us for this type of program because they realize the value of continuing dental care," Sweeney said. "However, because of financial limitations, many have had to eliminate regular dental care from their budget."
The health implications for post-retirement dental care are significant, said Harold C. Slavkin, DDS, dean of the University of Southern California School of Dentistry and one of the chief architects of the landmark Surgeon General's report, released in 2000.
"Medicare does not cover routine dental services and, in most states, neither does Medicaid," he said. "With continued dental care, those who are 50-plus can avoid a myriad of health problems, including tooth loss, gum disease and mouth cancers. With continued care, we can all enjoy a robust lifestyle and a wide range of foods, communicate effectively, maintain self-esteem and meet our social responsibilities within our family and community."
The AARP Dental Insurance Plan provides immediate coverage for most preventive, diagnostic and basic restorative services, as well as endodontics (root canal treatment) and oral surgery (extractions). After 12 months, coverage expands to include major restorations, periodontics (gum treatment) and prosthodontics (dentures).
"Dental insurance for retirees and those who are 50-plus is often very restrictive or simply unavailable," said Gary D. Radine, president and CEO of the holding company that includes Delta Dental Insurance Company. "This new program balances the need for immediate benefits with the need for affordable monthly premiums."
Those interested in the coverage may contact the AARP Dental Insurance Plan for more information at Delta Dental Insurance Company or call toll-free at (866) 583-2085 to enroll. AARP membership is required for enrollment.
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