People often talk about the importance of access to health care. At Oral Health Kansas, we believe access to oral health care is of critical importance for all Kansans, and we believe one of the keys is ensuring people have a way to pay for dental services.
In January 2013, the Kansas Medicaid program transitioned to a managed care program called KanCare. Through KanCare, the state aims to help Medicaid beneficiaries maintain their overall health. One of the most important ways people can maintain their overall health is through good oral health.
Many Medicaid beneficiaries face multiple medical problems. Improving access to dental care and investing in prevention money and results in better health in the long run. Dental disease is a communicable, lifelong infection. A 2000 Surgeon General’s report and numerous subsequent studies show a strong link between poor dental health and diabetes, heart disease, pneumonia and pre-term births. Access to regular dental services and the resulting better oral health can help people control chronic diseases and can help prevent premature births.
Since the Medicaid program’s inception, Kansas’ poorest adults have not had access to dental services through Medicaid. The cost of not providing a dental benefit for Medicaid-eligible adults has been paid in increasing use of hospital emergency rooms and medical complications arising from unmet dental problems.
A ray of hope emerged when the state of Kansas selected KanCare contractors that offer a preventive dental benefit for the poorest adults in Kansas.
The new KanCare adult preventive dental benefit is an innovation. It marks the most significant milestone in Medicaid dental benefits in our state’s history. The program long has guaranteed that dental services will be available to children, but the same guarantee has not been available to all adults enrolled in the Medicaid program.
We applaud the KanCare focus on maintaining overall health, and we see the preventive dental benefit as a major step toward ensuring quality health and wellbeing for Kansans.
While we celebrate this milestone, we also continue to urge policymakers to study the value of including comprehensive dental benefits for all Kansas Medicaid beneficiaries. The costs of not offering restorative dental benefits, such as fillings and crowns, are borne not only by the people who are unable to take care of their dental health, but by all of us.