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Greater access to dental care through MO HealthNet

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Thursday, October 5, 2023   

More Missourians should be able to get routine dental care, with a recent change in the way providers are paid by the state.

MO HealthNet is paying higher rates to providers who see patients in the state's version of Medicaid, which should encourage more of them to accept MO HealthNet patients.

Gary Harbison, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health, said it is an important change because people may put off treating dental health issues if they are worried about the cost, but there is nothing minor about the problems.

"If untreated conditions go on, people sometimes end up in emergency rooms," Harbison pointed out. "Sometimes they end up in the hospital, and sometimes they die from untreated dental conditions."

Harbison noted access to oral care has an economic impact, too, since adults have an easier time at work when they are not dealing with dental pain, and children can go to school ready to learn and pay attention. It is estimated four in 10 children who are eligible for Medicaid coverage do not receive dental care.

Jessica Emmerich, dental medical facilitator for the coalition, said people in rural areas will notice the improved access the most. Now, they should be able to go to private-practice dentists, provided the dentists agree to take MO HealthNet patients.

"Which now allows MO HealthNet and the managed-care plans to pay comparable, if not more, to other insurances," Emmerich explained. "I just encourage participations from dental providers to enroll with MO HealthNet and Missouri Medicaid."

Many parts of Missouri do not have enough dentists, and the pandemic caused a reduction in the overall workforce. Most dental practices are still understaffed and some are not accepting new patients. Emmerich added the increased rates should help offset some of those economic factors.


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