Given the current economic climate, states are searching for ways to cut back costs. Eight months ago, California made drastic cuts to dental benefits for adult Medicaid recipients, leaving 3 million poor and disabled Californians uninsured for dental cleanings, exams, filings, root canals and dentures. Massachusetts threatens to follow their lead with similar cuts.
Oral health is an essential part of overall health. If left untreated, dental disease can impact other chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and can interfere with basic life activities, such as eating, speaking, learning and working.
Unable to pay for dental services out of their own pockets, California Medicaid patients are forced to delay care until dental pain is intolerable and their only option is extractions, the only dental service still covered. A recent story on NPR reported that dental schools and free clinics in California have been overrun or have been forced to close and while dentists are offering discounts and payment plans, low income adults cannot afford these options.
Proposed cuts in Massachusetts would leave almost 700,000 residents, including more than 120,000 low-income seniors and 180,000 disabled adults without critical oral health benefits. Like California, many easily-solved oral health problems will instead become needless pain and suffering. Extractions will remain the only option to prevent infections from spreading throughout the body.
Massachusetts has led the country on healthcare reform and yet, threatens to cut oral health out of the picture despite the link between oral health and overall health. Dental prevention and treatment services also reduce costs to the state by preventing costly emergency services and decreasing the severity of other chronic diseases. A Kaiser study found the 2002 elimination of dental services merely shifted the cost of care to other parts of the health care system.
Let’s learn our lessons from California’s experiences. We must preserve MassHealth adult dental benefits to ensure healthy communities and avoid unnecessary healthcare costs.
Oral Health Intern