FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 16, 2023
LOUISVILLE, KY – The Kentucky Oral Health Coalition is dedicated to ensuring meaningful access to oral health care for all Kentuckians. The decision to expand adult Medicaid dental benefits gave the Commonwealth an opportunity to improve oral health outcomes for our most vulnerable Kentuckians – including those with substance use disorders and pregnant women. While it was a worthy debate about the process to expand services, the reality now is that 900,000 low-income, disabled, and other vulnerable Kentucky adults must once again go without critical dental care.
The need for comprehensive dental benefits is well-established in the Commonwealth, which ranks in the bottom five on several oral health indicators and has more adults age 65+ with no natural teeth than any other state. Ensuring adults have access to routine dental visits as well as restorative treatment improves oral health outcomes and reduces costs. In fact, states that offer comprehensive adult Medicaid dental benefits see a dramatic reduction in spending on ER visits for non-traumatic dental care each year.
With Senate Bill 65 receiving final passage today, the General Assembly has removed these expanded benefits, a decision that will negatively impact the oral health of thousands who are already accessing this critical coverage.
While deliberations on the bill resulted in clarification of allowable rate increases, the bill’s final version leaves provider rates – which had been stagnant for more than 20 years – in jeopardy as the Department for Medicaid Services considers opportunities to craft a new fee schedule, a step we encourage swift action on to reduce negative impact on providers.
We know that expanding the available benefits alone is not enough to increase access – and there are significant workforce challenges impacting care in our state. The increase in reimbursement rates alongside the expansion of benefits was a necessary step to ensure providers’ ability to provide new services to patients. We were also hopeful that this would have helped increase the number of Medicaid-enrolled providers over time.
By no means is this expansion the answer to the growing oral health crisis in Kentucky, but it can offer a first step toward providing comprehensive dental care for Kentuckians. The Department for Medicaid Services and the General Assembly must reach an agreement in the immediate aftermath of the legislative session so our Commonwealth can be back on track to providing folks with the health care they need to be healthy, work, and thrive.
Kentucky Oral Health Coalition is a group of concerned citizens, advocates, and professionals working together to improve oral health across Kentucky. Learn more at kyoralhealthcoalition.org.