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RIHCA - Rhode Island Health Center Association

Public Policy - State Legislation

Efforts to Sustain Access to Adult Dental Services In 2012, Governor Chafeeā€™s budget for State Fiscal Year 2013 proposed to cut dental services for all adults ages 21 and older with Medicaid coverage. This cut included pregnant women, parents of children with RIte Care coverage, disabled adults, elders and nursing home residents. There were a total of over 90,000 Rhode Islanders included in this population, 30,000 of which received dental services in 2011. Eliminating dental services from the budget had an estimated savings of $2.7 million in state general revenue funds and $5.6 million in all funds.

Cutting dental services however, was opposed by many including the Rhode Island Health Center Association for its importance and key role in maintaining the health of Rhode Islanders. For over ten years The General Assembly and Medicaid program paired with community health centers, other safety net dental providers, non-profit organizations and private foundations to strengthen the oral health safety net in Rhode Island, says Jane Hayward president and CEO of RIHCA. With this proposed budget cut, all of the hard work and collaboration done by these groups would have been so quickly undone and overall threaten access for uninsured adults and children who rely on the oral health safety net for oral care as well as eliminate dental coverage for adults on Medicare. Although this budget proposal indicated a total savings of over $5 million dollars, a significant amount of that savings would unfortunately be offset by additional costs on the medical side. Medicaid would have had increased exposure for emergency department visits for adults who previously had dental coverage, additional premature births with accompanying NICU utilization, and other serious and potentially expensive medical consequences, says Hayward.

Overall, a cut to dental services would have been a step backward in the hard work community health centers have done to grow their dental offices and services. Health centers aim to provide comprehensive, high-quality primary and preventive care and by providing dental services at 15 locations they serve as the core of the dental care safety net in the state. There are currently 108 operatories in community health centers. The connection between physical health and oral health is critical, therefore, this service is a necessity and has proven its worth.

The proposed budget cut of dental services for adults with Medicaid was not approved. Fortunately, Rhode Island continues to value the importance of providing dental coverage to the most vulnerable populations and works to maintain the strength of its oral safety net.