Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Poor Adults in Missouri May Get Better Access to Health Care

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Poor Adults in Missouri May Get Better Access to Health Care

Article excerpt

* About 250,000 Missouri adults could qualify for dental benefits starting in the fall.

* The services are expected to cost the state about $14 million for one year. It is projected to start sometime this fall.

* Benefits include tooth extractions, exams and imaging.

* There are about 600,000 emergency room visits every year for non-traumatic dental problems.

Dr. Heidi Miller still remembers the time a young patient came to her office a few years ago complaining about head pain. The patient had an abscess a swollen area of body tissue on his face, a complication of poor oral health.

"It was so big that it looked like his face was stretched as big as a baseball," said Miller, who works at Family Care Health Centers. "It's very disheartening because it is totally preventable."

Miller and other health workers are hopeful that such cases will soon become more rare. Starting in the fall, about 250,000 low- income Missourians may have access to state-funded dental care for the first time in a decade.

Missouri's Medicaid program, which provides government-funded health insurance to low-income residents, now only reimburses dental services for recipients who are children, pregnant, blind or live in nursing homes.

Other adult recipients received dental services up until 2005 when they were ended as part of a larger round of Medicaid cuts by Gov. Matt Blunt. Now those beneficiaries are set to again get dental care. About $14 million in money for dental services was included in the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Community health organizations and advocates had pushed for years to restore the dental benefits. They argued about the importance of oral health to a patient's overall well-being and the costly implications of unchecked dental issues.

"Access to adult dental services that are reimbursed through Medicaid is incredibly important," said Alan Freeman, CEO of Affinia Healthcare, formerly Grace Hill Health Centers.

Freeman is also a former director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, which oversees the Medicaid program. Freeman said the state budget plan means providers like his center can be reimbursed for about 45 dental procedures, including tooth extractions, exam visits and imaging. …

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