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House panel backs restoration of Medicaid adult dental coverage, hears stories of suffering…

The House Health & Welfare Committee has passed HB 395, to restore non-emergency dental services to adults on Medicaid, after a hearing this morning at which people with disabilities and their advocates traveled from Moscow, Jerome and Pocatello to plead for the change. Idaho eliminated the services under its Medicaid program in 2011, causing emergency room costs for dental-related emergencies in the program to double. Today, lawmakers heard about the human suffering the move caused as well.

“Right after the cuts in dental care in 2011, I had an impacted, infected tooth which had to be surgically removed,” Joe Raiden of Moscow, told the committee. “It was very painful. Sometime during 2012, another tooth began hurting. I knew I had a cavity, but couldn’t afford to get it filled. Then … it became very painful, having exposed nerves. … I ended up losing my tooth because I did not have preventive dental care that would have allowed me to have regular checkups.”

A year after Idaho made the cut in 2011, services were restored for the most severely disabled on the program, those under the aged, blind and disabled waiver and the developmental disabilities waiver, which brought coverage back for about 10,000 people. But more than 25,000 people with disabilities or serious health needs remained uncovered.

Tina Dressel, speaking for an independent living center in Pocatello, said one resident at her center was able to get her teeth pulled, but not to get dentures to replace them. “So going on three years now, she has not had any teeth,” Dressel said. “Other people, the teeth are basically rotting at the gums and falling out because of not being able to access dental care.” She urged lawmakers to “help our population get the services that they need.”

David Decker of Jerome told the committee, "I've experienced mouth abscesses from my teeth not being able to be taken care of. This scares me, because I get infections very easily. ... I did get sepsis in August of 2013 ... which cost the state about $100,000 to fix."

Gov. Butch Otter has included the restoration in his budget recommendation; savings from a renegotiated dental services contract will cover the full cost. Paul Leary, administrator of Idaho’s Division of Medicaid director, said the renegotiation didn’t lower payments to dentists; instead,  “It was really that since we’ve had this in place since 2009, in the managed-care plan which pushes to preventative services, that we’re paying a higher percentage of preventive services and a lower percentage of restorative services, because prevention works.”

After the bill’s enthusiastic approval by the committee, it now moves to the full House; to become law, it still must pass there and in the Senate and receive the governor’s signature.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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