Eligible Lower-Income Oregon Veterans Can Sign Up for Free Dental Program
The Oregon Health Authority is gearing up to launch a no-cost dental program for lower-income veterans.
This month it opened the application process, and on Jan. 1 the program will launch. No one knows how many will sign up and qualify among Oregon’s 300,000 veterans but it could be thousands.
To qualify, vets can earn between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty limit or between about $19,000 and $54,000 a year for a single person. Those who earn less already qualify for dental care through the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon’s version of Medicaid.
The Oregon Health Plan and the new veterans plan offer free dental care – without insurance premiums or co-pays that includes cleanings, X-rays, extractions, emergency care and some crowns and dentures.
Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg and a dentist, spearheaded the plan during the February legislative session to cover a gap in services. The Veterans Administration, which offers comprehensive physical care only offers limited dental care. For example, in the Portland area last year, only about 3% of the veterans served by VA Portland also received dental care, said spokesman Daniel Herrigstad, a spokesman for VA Portland.
Hayden estimates that only about 15% of Oregon’s vets have dental care.
Studies show that poor oral hygiene is associated with cavities and gum disease along with heart disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Dental problems also are linked to depression, difficulty in finding employment and poor self esteem.
Hayden had asked for $5 million for the program but the Legislature only approved $1 million in for startup costs and dental care through June 30 when the current two-year budget ends. Because funds are limited, the health authority, which is administering the program, urged veterans to apply early to ensure they get in.
“This new program reflects our state’s continuing commitment to serve and support our Oregon veteran community,” Kelly Fitzpatrick, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement.