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State’s Most Vulnerable Affected by Medicaid Dental Care Cuts

February 19, 2009

Pierre, SD – Restoring Medicaid funding for adult dental care is crucial for South Dakota's most needy population, according to dental health advocates gathering at the state Capitol on Friday. Dentist Robin Hattervig is the dental care director for Horizon Health Care, Inc., an organization of 10 Community Health Centers scattered across eastern, central and southwestern South Dakota. He says Gov. Round's recommended $1.5 million cut in state Medicaid funding would mean an additional $2.3 million lost in federal funding. Hattervig warns that as a result, dental issues would go untreated for many.

"This is a vulnerable population that we're cutting out this program for: people in nursing homes, people with mental disabilities or physical disabilities, single moms. It's the kind of population that sometimes finds it tough to get to the dental office for dental care. However, if they don't get that dental care, their problems, medical-wise, can be compounded, too."

The group will meet with policymakers on Friday as part of the annual Dental Day Observance at the Legislature.

South Dakota Dental Association executive director Paul Knecht says that more than 10,500 South Dakota adults have received dental care through the program. He calls the proposed cuts penny wise, but pound foolish, for a couple of reasons.

"One, because of the federal monies that we're going to leave on the table, and also because a lot of our Medicaid monies will be wasted. We know that no dental disease gets better with time. It only gets worse. At some point, when the dental pain for these patients gets bad enough, they will seek care through an emergency room or some other emergency center. None of those locations in South Dakota can provide definitive care."

Hattervig says if they can catch these individuals on the front end and provide preventative care, it will save money for the state and federal governments in the long run. Knecht hopes the federal stimulus package will allow states to leave in place the funding that was available for the program in 2008.

David Law, Public News Service - SD