Celebrating a new day in oral health care

A new day in oral health care

“Welcome to a new day for Minnesotans on public programs who want to seek dental care,” Sheila Riggs, DDS, MS, PhD, chair of the Department of Primary Dental Care, proclaimed Wednesday, October 20.

She opened a virtual press conference outlining 2021 Minnesota legislative wins for oral health care with excitement and optimism. Advocates for the bill, including Riggs, Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead, Senator Michelle Benson (R-31), Representative Tina Liebling (DFL-26A) and more, gathered to celebrate and provide details on the state’s investment in dental care.

The 2021 Omnibus Health and Human Services Finance bill included significant changes to the prioritization of oral health care in Minnesota, including an additional $61 million in funds to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental care. The bill also included an investment in periodontal disease, the establishment of a dental home advisory committee for a pilot project and improving requirements for health insurance companies’ reporting to providers and clinics.

This bill, which has the potential to transform the oral health of Minnesotans across the state, came from years of collaboration between providers, advocates and policymakers who formed a group they called “Get to Yes.”

Since 2001, Critical Access Dental (CAD) has provided Medicaid reimbursement to dental providers who serve enrollees to combat the high levels of dental disease seen by people on Medicaid who might not otherwise see a dentist. The program has allowed providers to innovate and serve patients they couldn’t otherwise afford to see; in 2018, the program resulted in two million visits.

However, an increase in Medicaid enrollees and a shortfall of funds has led to deficits and concerns over the program’s sustainability in recent years. The increased reimbursement rate will restore the program’s success and allow for more equitable care across the state.

“Minnesota has long had a two-tier dental system,” Commissioner Harpstead explained. “Those who had private insurance or could pay out-of-pocket received care, while those on medical assistance often went without that necessary care.” The bill will allow the 25% of Minnesotans who receive health care coverage through public assistance to take care of their oral health, as well.

“Dr. Riggs always reminds me that there is no health without dental health,” she recalled.

Senator Benson and Representative Liebling shared their enthusiasm for the bill. “Dental care has to become part of the conversation around preventative care,” explained Senator Benson. “It impacts so many other areas of health and life.”

Representative Liebling shared her gratitude for those who advocated for oral health care policy. “This has always been a priority, but we didn’t make much progress on it until recently,” she said. “Your work behind the scenes was important in getting us to yes.”

The press conference included testimony from those who would be impacted by the appropriation, including Advanced Dental Therapist Trina Courtwright, and AppleTree CEO Michael Helgeson, DDS.

Minnesota Dental Association Executive Director Carmelo Cinqueonce, MBA, reflected on the gravity and the ceremony of the group’s accomplishment. “In my ten years with the MDA, I have never seen a level of collaboration like this,” he explained. “The willingness of all parties to acknowledge and address long-known issues is extraordinary.”

In a video sharing his gratitude for the legislature, Dean Keith Mays, DDS, MS, PhD, shared the impact this bill will have on the School of Dentistry. “While we provide many kinds of care, we are primarily a safety net clinic,” he explained. “This vote makes it possible for patients to make the choice to receive care that will improve their overall health who might not otherwise seek out or receive care.”

View the full press conference, or view Dr. Mays’s message of gratitude.