As Dr. Kyle Hackney wrote in The Olympian recently, reimbursement rates make it difficult for dentists to treat Medicaid patients. Washington’s Medicaid adult dental reimbursement rates are among the lowest in the country, only about a quarter (28.7%) of private insurance rates. That makes it difficult for lower income patients to access dental care.
It’s not feasible to raise Medicaid dental rates across-the-board this year. However, the Legislature is considering a proposal to improve access for some of the neediest Medicaid patients – people with diabetes and pregnant women – by increasing reimbursement rates for dental providers. As a physician, I have seen firsthand the impact of oral health on patient’s overall health. For people with diabetes, oral disease can lead to serious complications. Research has shown that treating oral disease in diabetic patients results in fewer hospitalizations and significantly lower health care costs.
It’s also especially important for pregnant women to get dental care – and not just for their own health. Periodontal (gum) disease in pregnant women is associated with preterm birth and low birth weight infants. Additionally, dental treatment during pregnancy can improve babies’ oral health by helping moms avoid passing cavity-causing bacteria on to their infants. The proposed legislative action would produce a strong return on investment by improving overall health and lowering medical care costs by increasing access to care for the patients who need it most.
Jessica Van Fleet-Green, MD