This article was originally published by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
A new Oregon program offering dental insurance for veterans launches this month — and state officials say they have funding to serve about 10 times more veterans than have enrolled so far.
They are encouraging veterans to contact their county or tribal Veterans Service Office to submit an application.
The program, known as the Oregon Veteran Dental Program, covers the same basic dental care that the state provides to Medicaid recipients through the Oregon Health Plan.
Annual teeth cleanings, fillings, extractions, dentures and emergency care are among the services available for free under the state’s Veteran Dental Plan. However, it does not cover more complex treatments like bridges.
“If you don’t feel good about your teeth, you don’t smile and don’t feel confident and it has downstream implications,” said Kelly Fitzpatrick, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs. “Veterans who may need some help with their oral care and not get it may not feel confident going into a job interview or other things that we all take for granted.”
The program is intended for veterans who earn too much to qualify for full Medicaid benefits, but who still struggle to afford the out-of-pocket costs of dental care.
Veterans are eligible if they live in Oregon and have income at or below 400% of the federal poverty level, compared to a cap of just 138% of the federal poverty level for individual adults to qualify for Medicaid.
A veteran can make up to about $54,000 a year for an individual or up to $111,000 for a veteran in a family of four and qualify for the new plan.
The Oregon Health Authority says it is accepting applications and there’s no wait list for approval.
The state Legislature provided seed funding for the program — $1 million in lottery dollars in the 2022 session. OHA estimates that is enough to provide coverage to roughly 2,500 veterans. So far, just over 200 people have enrolled in the program since the state began taking applications in November.
Nationwide, only around 15% of veterans qualify for dental benefits through the Veterans’ Administration. Oregon health officials hope the new state program will cover many more veterans.