Saturday, March 31, 2012

Michigan dental care for uninsured and low-income people: when more costs less

On March 17, 2012, the Lansing State Journal featured an article, "Growing numbers of people heading to emergency rooms for dental problems" by Laura Misjak, and an editorial, "Michigan must solve dental care puzzle", urging the state to increase access to dental care.
Although Michigan reinstated a preventive dental care benefit to people on Medicaid in 2010, there are not enough dentists who will treat Medicaid patients. According to the the Michigan Dental Association, of the state's 6,715 dentists, only 1,666 accept Medicaid for adult patients. This is because the rate of reimbursement for basic dental care is only about 30 to 40%. 95% of Dentists responding to a recent survey by the MDA said the reimbursement rate would have to be above 50% for them to participate in the Medicaid program.

People who are uninsured or who can't find a dentist to treat them, often end up in emergency rooms where they typically receive antibiotics, painkillers, and a referral to a low-cost dental clinic. There are sometimes long waits to be treated in dental clinics and patients may end up back in the Emergency room before they can get in to see a dentist. An emergency room visit typically costs around $200. Sometimes dental problems that are not treated properly can result in longer term hospitalizations that can cost almost $20,000 for a 2 1/2 day stay. 

According to the article, some officials estimate that the number of emergency room visits for dental pain is " …as high as 100,000 per year in Michigan, with more than 1,000 hospitalizations annually for preventable dental problems."
"As with so many issues, spending money on prevention will save money in the long run. Michigan must must move access to dental care higher on its priority list," says the LSJ editorial.

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