Dental care bills see movement in Pa. House and beyond

‘When you are unable to get the dental care you need, all of the outcomes get worse and worse,’ state Rep. Dan Frankel said

By: - December 15, 2023 6:00 am

Legislation in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives would improve access to dental care. (Getty Images)

Several bills aimed at improving Pennsylvanians’ access to dental care are currently moving through the Legislature with broad support from lawmakers. 

One bill, House Bill 1585, would establish teledentistry in Pennsylvania and require insurance plans to cover it. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny). 

“When you are unable to get the dental care you need, all of the outcomes get worse and worse. Lapses in dental care can make it difficult to eat or talk, and they lead to serious health conditions. Pain from lapses in dental care can make it difficult to function at all,” Frankel said of the legislation. “It’s nothing less than immoral to allow this necessary care to remain out of reach.”

Frankel’s legislation passed the House on Tuesday in a 163-40 vote and now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

Before resigning from her seat to run for Allegheny County Executive, Sara Innamorato introduced House Bill 1417, which would restore dental coverage under the state Medical Assistance program after coverage cuts in 2011 eliminated services such as root canals and emergency exams. 

State Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny) has championed the legislation in Innamorato’s absence. 

“When something as essential as a root canal isn’t covered by Medicaid, children and adults who rely on this assistance are often left with no choice but to abandon treatments or procedures that are fundamental to their physical and mental wellbeing,” Kinkead said this week. “Income should never dictate access to dental care, but it does here in Pennsylvania, and that’s what we’re trying to change with these bills.”

Similar to Frankel’s bill, HB 1417 passed the House on Tuesday in a 153-50 vote

Despite no longer serving in the state’s lower chamber, Innamorato reacted to news of the bill’s passage in a statement:

“Medical Assistance must provide a dental package that includes these life-saving services because no one should have to choose between their dental health or paying rent,” Innamorato said. “Teeth should no longer be considered ‘luxury bones’ in Pennsylvania. I am thrilled that the House has passed this legislation, and I urge the Senate to do the same.”

A third dental health care bill aimed at improving access to dental care for the Commonwealth’s children has already passed through the General Assembly with unanimous support and now awaits the governor’s signature. 

House Bill 1478, sponsored by state Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia), would amend Pennsylvania’s Public School Code to allow districts to utilize a dental hygienist for student dental health screenings. Current state law only allows school dentists to perform this service. 

“Children with poor oral health status were nearly three times more likely than were their counterparts to miss school as a result of dental pain, which further creates an urgency to fill the gaps in our overall dental system,” Cephas said. “This legislation relaxes current law and will allow school districts flexibility to get more students checked and catch potential dental problems while also preventing future issues down the road.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro signed Cephas’ bill into law on Thursday. 

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