Thousands of Marylanders Just Gained Access to Critical Oral Health Care – InsuranceNewsNet

The lack of dental benefits for Medicaid-eligible adults contributes to this coverage gap, as the provision of dental care to adult enrolled adults is currently optional for state Medicaid programs. Through the remarkable work of community advocates and policymakers, states such as Maryland have acted to strengthen their Medicaid programs by adding adult dental coverage.

However, while most states provide at least emergency dental care for adults (defined differently by state), many do not provide dental care beyond emergency procedures or have no coverage at all. This leaves adult Medicaid members who need dental care with an untenable choice of going to an emergency room or suffering from pain.

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The case for the implementation of Medicaid dental benefits for adults goes beyond the moral imperative. When better and improved population health is the mission and mandate of government, and when the vast disparities between socioeconomically disenfranchised and historically marginalized populations are well documented, then government has an incumbent on addressing access to health care for those most affected and disproportionately represented among Medicaid enrollments.

Additionally, the lack of dental insurance is a significant factor in disparities in overall health outcomes, making the expansion of Medicaid dental benefits to adults a powerful lever in achieving equitable oral and overall health.

For example, adults who are eligible for Medicaid also suffer from significantly higher rates of diseases related to poor oral health, such as cardiovascular disease, oral cancer, and substance use disorders, compounded by a lack of access to necessary preventive oral health care.

Expanding Medicaid coverage also has undeniable economic benefits. Nearly 80% of emergency room dentist visits cost the healthcare system $2.1 billion annually, are preventable and treatable in a dental office.

In Marylanda CareQuest Institute Study found that the state spent 10 million dollars per year for these visits for Medicaid patients, which are costly, ineffective, and largely avoidable with accessible preventative dental care.

In addition, adults who receive Medicaid dental care report improved oral health and employability. CareQuest Institute Research conducted before the pandemic found that ensuring access to dental care for all working adults would make things better $14.2 million in federal tax revenue and save $7.9 million in unemployment benefits.

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While progress in Maryland is a monumental milestone towards equal access to care, much remains to be done. MDAC and the advocacy community have shifted their focus to implementation, including working with partners and stakeholders on a comprehensive consumer education and outreach campaign to provide accurate information and ensure enrollers are aware of dental benefits and help them gain access . You also work with the Maryland State Dental Association and other partners to recruit providers to participate in the Maryland Healthy Smiles state dental program to meet the increasing number of people seeking dental care.

By extending additional dental benefits to Medicaid adults, Maryland Politicians have recognized that oral health affects general health, well-being and economic security. This was the culmination of an arduous journey that began in 2007 and is a critical step toward improving access to care and creating an equitable oral health system for the people of Maryland—a model we hope can be replicated nationwide.

Kas RafiaDDS, MBA, MPH, is Chief Health Equity Officer at CareQuest Institute for Oral Health. Mary Backley is the managing director of Maryland Dental Action Coalition.

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