Medicaid Dental Care Approved By Lawmakers

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By Stephanie Tyrpak
By Randy Livingston

WSIL --  It's been two years since the state cut dental care for Medicaid patients as part of a broad effort to reform the program. A bill passed late last month could soon restore that coverage. It's now waiting on Governor Quinn's signature. 

The bill would bring back funding for the program on July 1. You can find Senate Bill 741 here
 
The Affordable Care Act means more people have been added to Medicaid. That makes saving money even more important. However, the state also found that the people who skip the dentist end up being a lot more expensive.
 
The Shawnee Health Service got just two months notice in 2012 that Medicaid patients would be losing most of their dental coverage.
 
"I certainly understand the fiscal constraints of the state," said Shawnee Health Executive Director Patsy Jensen. "But in this situation it was penny wise, pound foolish."
 
The clinic switched people over to a sliding fee plan. Jensen soon discovered about 13 percent of patients just stopped showing up.
 
"People just said well I can't afford 50 percent, so I'm not going to get dental care," said Jensen. 
 
Shawnee partnered with SIH hospitals to track when those same people turned to the ER for help. 
 
"Emergency room care does not provide dental care," said Jensen. "It provides relief from pain and antibiotics, but it doesn't fix the problem."
 
They brought that information about the expensive ER medical bills to state associations and lawmakers. 
 
"If we don't deal with them, it's going to hurt us in the long run and cost us more money," said Representative Mike Bost. "We have to be wise with that."
 
Legislators decided in 2012 that Medicaid spending was too high. Representative Mike Bost believes a big part of the cost is due to fraud.
 
"People that may not be living in the state," said Bost. "People that actually have a larger income and don't qualify."
 
Bost doesn't think the state has done enough to curb that problem in the past two years. However, he did take a stand to bring back the dental coverage.
 
"We have to hold our line on the Medicaid reform," said Bost. "And we do. There's a sensible place somewhere in the middle."
 
Now that the plan has been approved by the legislature, Shawnee Health is gearing up for a rush of patients coming back for care.
 
"We are thrilled," said Jensen. "Our phones already are ringing for people trying to get appointments."
 
Shawnee is waiting to hear from the state as to when they can start accepting Medicaid from patients again.
 
This isn't the first time Illinois has cut dental care from Medicaid. It was chopped during the 1990s and brought back the next year. 
 
The current bill also brings back coverage for podiatry and takes out some of the limits on prescriptions for mental health patients.
 
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