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Michigan Health Care Advocates Look to Reform Medicaid Dental Program

Approximately 1.6 million Michigan residents have insufficient access to dental services. Despite a high demand of a need that exists, dental providers are not compensated adequately for the cost of care.

“It 100 percent affects them,” said Alex Gonzales, office manager at Dental Clinics North. “Look at the providers in this area, let alone all the rural areas in the country, the state, that used to participate with it. If they are not matching it and it is not incentivized for them, you are 100 percent putting up a cost of barrier for care.”

Kids and adults are equally impacted by the lack of proper coverage. “Right now in Michigan we have the healthy kids dental program which is the Medicaid dental program for children,” said Bill Sullivan, vice president of advocacy and professional relations for the Michigan Dental Association. “A big part of the reason is that the reimbursement rates are higher, and it’s also issued by private insurance companies. That’s good for the patients and the providers.”

COVID-19 created barriers in dental care coverage. People who are seeking a dental care provider but are unable to find one is growing by the thousands. According to the Michigan Dental Association this a problem that will only get worse if it not fixed in time. “The pandemic in itself has been brutal for oral health. Access to care has always been a problem and now we’ve seen the amount of people eligible or on Medicare increase by the thousands,” said Pearl Bailey, director of clinical operations of Dental Clinics North.

Anesthesia and sedation are required for many patients, but due to the inadequate reimbursement offered by Medicaid, hospitals and surgery centers aren’t able to see them. “That’s a problem that’s being addressed in the executive budget, to put more money into the reimbursement of anesthesiologists and hospitals. That’s where the issue lies with the anesthesia  issue,” said Sullivan.

Poor oral health care and lack of access to dental health care has been connected to heart disease, diabetes, pre–term labor, and oral cancer.