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Dentists urge next state budget should address crisis in adult Medicaid programs

dentist stock photo
Courtesy of the Michigan Dental Association
Experts say people who rely on Medicaid insurance for dental insurance often have poor oral health

Michigan dentists are urging the state legislature and the Governor to address a crisis affecting patients with Medicaid insurance during the ongoing budget negotiations.

They say people who rely on Medicaid insurance for dental care often have poor oral health, because of lack of access to dentists, as well as the program's limitations for coverage.

"Medicaid pays about 20 to 25% of a private practice's standard fees," said Dr. Michael Campeau, a dentist in Fremont, Michigan. "And these rates have not increased in nearly 30 years."

The poor reimbursement means many dentists do not accept patients with Medicaid insurance, he said. In addition, Medicaid does not cover many services, including treatment of gum disease.

One of Campeau's current patients ran into both issues, he said, with dire results. First, she had to have all her teeth extracted, because she was unable to obtain preventative care for her gum disease.

Then, her dentist suddenly died, before she could be fitted for dentures. It took her months to locate a dentist (Campeau) who would accept her as a patient.

"Because of this she had to go without teeth much much longer than she should have," he said. "This resulted in months of inadequate nutrition, social embarrassment and limited employment prospects."

It's estimated that more than 1.5 million Michiganders have inadequate access to dental care.

“This budget cycle is the opportunity Michigan has been waiting for to invest in the health of residents and ensure equitable access for all Medicaid dental populations,” said Ellen Sugrue-Hyman, Executive Director of the Michigan Oral Health Coalition. “The list of individuals who are seeking dental care but are unable to find a provider has grown by thousands, and this is a problem that will continue to worsen. Now is the time to fix it.”

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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