Opinion: First-year anniversary of the adult Medicaid dental benefits, the race has just begun

A toothbrush, mirror and cotton swabs sit on a tray ready for the next patient during a free dental clinic at the Vermont Agency of Human Services Hartford District Office Building in White River Junction, Vt., on Feb. 9.

A toothbrush, mirror and cotton swabs sit on a tray ready for the next patient during a free dental clinic at the Vermont Agency of Human Services Hartford District Office Building in White River Junction, Vt., on Feb. 9. Alex Driehaus/ Valley News


Published: 04-08-2024 4:50 PM

Tom Raffio is the president & CEO of Northeast Delta Dental.

One year ago, adult Medicaid recipients became eligible for dental benefits. It took 25 years of advocacy, education and legislative work to pass a comprehensive adult Medicaid oral health benefits bill that is and will continue to have a positive impact on the health and well-being of over 90,000 New Hampshire residents, some of whom have not been able to see a dentist in over a decade.

As a dedicated supporter of this bill, I am both amazed and proud that the collaborative work of the vocal advocates finally paid off. But, many hills remain on this marathon course. We are still in great need of dental professionals who are willing to serve the adult Medicaid population. I recognize this can be a challenging ask given the workforce shortages that this profession has been facing for an extended period of time.

On a positive note, there are many organizations and individuals that are contributing to the success of the program. To date we have seen a nearly 126 percent increase in providers serving the Medicaid-eligible population since launch day, and we are observing a steady increase as we continue to dedicate significant resources to provider recruitment.

Operationally, we are happy to see over 28,000 claims that have been submitted to date and over 11,000 members being served who had not been able to access comprehensive care prior.

We recognize that there isn’t one solution that will ensure every Medicaid-eligible adult can take advantage of these benefits so we are taking a multi-pronged approach to our efforts. We are working with Bi-State Primary Care Association (Bi-State) to administer our contribution of $6 million in dental loan repayment awards to be provided to dentists in northern New England over a three-year period. Bi-State is focusing on dental practices that see a high percentage of Medicaid patients and are often located in communities with recruitment challenges. In 2023, Northeast Delta Dental funded 16 dental loan repayment awards in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, totaling over $1.3 million.

We are also partnering with Solvere Health mobile clinics and DentaQuest, our Medicaid administrator, to bring dental care on the road. These dental mobile units are designed to provide comprehensive care with state-of-the-art technology to patients who would not otherwise have access to oral health care.

During the first three months of this year, 18 dental mobile clinics were held in many towns throughout New Hampshire, including Raymond, Berlin, Lebanon, Laconia, Tamworth and Newport. A total of 53 events have been held with 744 Medicaid members receiving treatment. Events are scheduled quarterly throughout the year to ensure continuous access to care.

One of the driving forces for our work is the research connecting oral health, overall health and well-being. The University of Chicago College of Dentistry has uncovered connections between poor oral health and Alzheimer’s disease and pre-diabetes. Research from the Mayo Clinic states poor dental health is related to endocarditis, stroke, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy and birth complications, and pneumonia. Moreover, poor oral health can also affect self-esteem and employment opportunities.

It is clear that improving the oral health of our citizens will lead to an improvement in the overall health of this state. To all of the dental professionals in New Hampshire that have already committed to serving Medicaid-eligible adults, I personally thank you for your commitment to serving. For others, I ask you to please consider the opportunity to make a difference by taking a few, or even one adult Medicaid patient.

Together we can reach the finish line of oral health access for all.

For any interested dentist, please contact DentaQuest Network Development at (855) 873-1283 or email NetworkDevelopment@dentaquest.com.