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Dental costs take bite out of farm, ranch budgets

Agriculture.com Staff 05/04/2009 @ 8:42am

A report released last week by The Access Project reveals that out-of-pocket dental care paid by farm and ranch families exceeds their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.

The report, The Cost of Dental Care and the Impact ofDental Insurance Coverage, indicates that families on averagespent $873 out-of-pocket annually on dental care. Thiscompares to $700 in average out-of-pocket costs fortheir prescription drugs.

"A lot of attention has been paid to the high cost of prescription drugs," says Carol Pryor, lead author and The Access Project Policy director. "We hope this report grabs the attention of policymakers since it shows that average dental costs can consume an even greater part of a family's budget."

The report, based on a survey of family farm and ranch operators in seven Great Plains states, indicates that 42% have dental insurance. This compares to 60% of Americans nationally. Only 12% of families who purchased insurance in the individual, non-group market had dental insurance. A total of 75% of the families surveyed report dental out-of-pocket costs.

While a direct link between periodontal disease and heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and diabetes has not been firmly established, a growing number of studies indicates there's an important connection between oral health and overall physical health.

"Oral health care is sometimes regarded as expendable," Pryor says. "This is a concern. Children may be covered under Medicaid and S-CHIP, but coverage for adults falls off the health care agenda."

Seven percent of survey respondents reported debt related to dental services. The average dental debt was $1,018; the median amount was $500.The report found that dental insuranceresulted in more predictable dental expenses and reduced delays inreceiving dental care.

"Our analysis shows that dental insurance softens the overall financial burdens of health care," Pryor says.

The Access Project urges policymakers to consider expandinghealth insurance coverage to include adequate protection for oral health care.

The report by The Access Project is the fourth in a series of issue briefs based on a 2007 survey of farm and ranch operators in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

A report released last week by The Access Project reveals that out-of-pocket dental care paid by farm and ranch families exceeds their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.

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