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Dental Reimbursements Could Improve Access for MN Kids

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Friday, January 14, 2022   

This month, Minnesota has raised state reimbursement rates for dentists who accept patients enrolled in the state's Medicaid program.

Groups working with families in need believe it will get more young children into a dentist's office.

Kraig Gratke, executive director of the Minnesota Head Start Association, said roughly 88% of the kids signed up for Head Start around the state are covered by the Medical Assistance (MA) program.

To meet federal requirements, Head Start has to help ensure families are getting annual dental care for their kids, but he acknowledged it is not always easy.

"In outstate Minnesota, there's just not a lot of dentists," Gratke pointed out. "And then, not a lot of dentists were taking MA because reimbursement wasn't high enough."

The state said it is addressing what many described as notoriously low rates. As part of a $61 million package adopted last year, all dentists will receive the same rates for the same services under Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. In some situations, payment increases could reach 98%.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) said in 2019, more than 60% of Minnesota children living in poverty did not see a dentist.

Gratke suggested not having consistent dental care could end up being very disruptive to a child's development, especially if they're in need of serious care.

"It makes it very difficult to learn, to manage behavior," Gratke asserted. "It's very hard on little ones."

State officials say benchmarks for health plans are being applied to the new rate structure. This year, DHS wants at least 45% of public health program enrollees to have a dental visit. In 2024, the goal rises to 55%. If a managed-care organization cannot meet those benchmarks, the department said it will step in to provide direct dental coverage.

Disclosure: Minnesota Community Action Association Resource Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Early Childhood Education, Health Issues, Housing/Homelessness, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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