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A Dental Dilemma as Ohio Expands Medicaid

PHOTO: Medicaid expansion represents an opportunity to expand dental coverage to an estimated 275,000 Ohioans  but only if there are enough dentists willing to provide it. Photo courtesy of Dental Access Now!
PHOTO: Medicaid expansion represents an opportunity to expand dental coverage to an estimated 275,000 Ohioans but only if there are enough dentists willing to provide it. Photo courtesy of Dental Access Now!
December 23, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio is facing a dental dilemma. The recent expansion of Medicaid gives 275,000 Ohioans a way to pay for needed medical services, including oral health care - but coverage doesn't necessarily mean access. Ohio has 81 designated "dental provider shortage areas" - communities and counties that do not have enough dentists to meet the needs of residents.

Cathy Levine with Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage said the state needs to expand access to basic dental services in these under-served areas.

"The solution we propose is to expand our dental team to include mid-level providers, who can provide basic dental services, but get paid less than half of a dentist," Levine explained.

Mid-level providers, called Registered Dental Practitioners, can perform preventive and routine care, which Levine says is what's needed to keep most dental problems from turning into dental emergencies. The most recent Ohio Medicaid Assessment Survey found that nearly 1.4 million adults and more than 125,000 children in Ohio had unmet needs for dental care in the past year.

It's estimated that only 12 percent of dentists take a significant number of Medicaid patients, and only 25 percent see at least one Medicaid patient. Levine said mid-level providers could make it financially feasible for dental practices to accept Medicaid, because their services cost patients much less than being seen by a dentist.

"Team-based health care, where all providers practice to the full extent of their training, can expand access while keeping costs down," she said.

Levine noted some opposition from dentist groups to expanding the use of Registered Dental Practitioners, but she said Ohio canot miss an opportunity to expand basic dental services by modernizing its dental practice laws.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH