State carves dental aid for adults


POSTED: Sunday, July 26, 2009

Medicaid dental benefits for adults will be reduced on Aug. 10 to what they were in 2006—covering only emergency services.

Emergencies include relieving dental pain, eliminating infection and treating acute injuries to the teeth and jaw.

The state Human Services Department's Med-QUEST Division notified Medicaid dental providers it cannot continue providing the same dental benefits for adults because of the state's fiscal crisis.

Children's dental benefits will remain the same.

Gov. Linda Lingle proposed cutting several programs, including adult dental benefits, to help tackle the state deficit when she submitted a two-year budget to the Legislature in December. She projected a savings of more than $3.2 million by reducing adult dental services.

Lingle has asked the Human Services Department to reduce overall Medicaid benefits by 4.3 percent—a total of about $42 million—through the next two years. The Med-QUEST Division is working on other changes, a spokeswoman said.

“;I understand why they decided to choose that (adult dental) benefit,”; said Beth Giesting, executive director of the Hawaii Primary Care Association, an advocate for 14 community health centers statewide.

“;But it's so counterproductive to take away a benefit like that, especially when it is capped at a relatively modest level ($500 per year or $1,000 if the person has dentures).”;

She said the annual expenditure isn't that great “;and it really is essential primary care.”;

Research has shown links between oral health and premature labor and deliveries and a variety of chronic diseases such as oral cancers, diabetes and heart disease, Giesting pointed out.

“;All kinds of things are related to how good your oral health is,”; she said. “;It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense and doesn't save a whole lot of money, either.”;

She added that neglecting dental conditions can cost more money in the long run.

She said the community health centers “;have done a fabulous job of expanding dental services over the past few years ... to make sure we have dental services for children and indigents.

“;But it's going to be difficult for the centers to maintain expanded services for everybody if many of those needing services can't afford to pay anything.”;

Providers were informed that all preventive and restorative services and denture-related services for adults must be performed on or before Aug. 9 to be considered a covered service.

All prior authorizations for adult denture, preventive and adult restorative services will expire as of Aug. 10.