Panel Probes Dental Care Access Issue
Friday, September 9, 2016
Many people in Michigan aren't receiving adequate dental care; at least that was the clear message provided through testimony before the Senate Health Policy Committee today. However, there was not necessarily full agreement about what's at the root of the situation.
Dr. Brenda COUGHLIN of Great Lakes Bay, an organization that operates health centers in Saginaw and the surrounding area, described the high demand for dental care her group has experienced. Great Lakes is virtually the only health clinic in that region that will provide dental care to patients on Medicaid, which only reimburses dentists for 25 percent of the cost of procedures, she said.
"We'd get 1,000 calls in day from patients," Coughlin told the committee. "It would take us more than half a year to see the people who had called us on one day."
Paul CROWLEY, Chief Dental Officer for Great Lakes Bay, said dental care just isn't readily available to many Medicaid patients.
"It's clear that the need is great and access is low," Crowley said.
But Sen. David ROBERTSON (R-Grand Blanc) said he had reason to believe the situation wasn't entirely due to a lack of access. Robertson said he has friends who are dentists who said they donate "chair time" to provide care to low-income patients, who quite often don't show up for the service.
In response, Crowley doubled down.
"There are great dentists out there, but they have to make a living," Crowley said. "Most of my friends are dentists and most of them don't take Medicaid."
According to testimony, at the low reimbursement rate Medicaid pays for dental treatment, it isn't even worth it for dentists to bother with the paperwork.
The situation regarding dental care for Michigan adults on Medicaid was contrasted at the hearing with what Michigan children who are eligible for the state's Healthy Kids program face. Healthy Kids reimburses dentists at a 60 percent rate and is considered a model program nationally. In addition, according to testimony, lack of adequate dental care for adults leads to increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Sen. Rick JONES (R-Grand Ledge) said a Healthy Adults Program was probably what is needed to address the problem adult Medicaid patients face, regarding dental care.
Larry DeGROAT, president of the Michigan Dental Association, broke down the access to dental care problem into three major areas. Disbursement of dentists, with some areas of the state having too few; Medicaid reimbursement rate, with the rate being so low that most dentists won't accept it; and patient education, where too many patients don't understand the value of preventive care.
DeGroat said his group is working on a proposal to help provide more access to dental care by modifying PA 161 of 2005, which allows a dental hygienist, under supervision of a dentist, to see patients in underserved areas.
More than once, committee chair Sen. Mike SHIRKEY (R-Clarklake) said the committee is seeking actual data, which would help identify and define the "access issue." He also made it clear that further information will be sought as the committee pursues the issue.
Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2016