Nine-year-old Aric sits for a dental appointment at a free clinic. -- Photo: Harrison Wagner
INDIANAPOLIS -- Angela Fitzgerald brought all three of her children to a free dental clinic held by the Marion County Health Department.
“This is my big flashlight. I’m going to shine it on those teeth so show me those teeth. Open real wide,” says Dr. Charles Gray to 9-year-old Aric during a dental exam.
The free clinic offers cleanings, x-rays and fluoride treatments. Fitzgerald used to be on Medicaid but her coverage lapsed over a year ago.
“I wanted to be able to work and afford it but I can’t even afford it working, you know with the health insurance,” Fitzgerald says. “So here we are.”
When Fitzgerald was on Medicaid they were able to visit every six months. But that’s not the case for all children on Medicaid in Indiana.
Kids On Medicaid Not Receiving Adequate Dental Care
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that almost 80 percent of children on Medicaid were not receiving all required dental services and almost a third didn’t visit a dentist at all.
The data is from 2011 and 2012, but the dental health community perceives it to be an accurate picture of the situation today.
Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases for children, and six percent of Hoosier children have untreated cavities.
“Parents have to realize … sometimes they think baby teeth, ‘I don’t have to do anything about it,’” says Dr. Gray. “That’s not true. The last baby teeth don’t fall out till age 12, so if you have a cavity at age four and you don’t do anything that’s a guaranteed emergency before age 12.”
But Angela Fitzgerald and her sons were the only takers at the free clinic today.
If you have a cavity at age four and you don’t do anything, that’s a guaranteed emergency before age 12.
Efforts To Get Dental Care To More Kids
But changes are coming to the Indiana Medicaid benefit plan that could help recruit providers to the program. Indiana Medicaid Director Joe Moser says there are a number of reasons providers don’t participate.
“Payment rates, reimbursement rates that Medicaid pays to those providers, it could be administrative barriers that they perceive, or it could be concerns with the populations served and whether or not they want to serve those populations,” Moser says.
Angela Fitzgerald and her son, 9-year-old, Aric. — Photo: Harrison Wagner
Moser says dental benefits will be provided through contracts with care plans and that will help ensure more kids are getting the services they need.
“We think improvements in quality outcomes, we can now monitor how the health plans are doing in a way that traditional Medicaid is not very good at doing, we can hold the health plans accountable for achieving better outcomes and we can ask them to help recruit more dental providers into their networks,” Moser says.
Those changes will come through in 2017. Federal recommendations for improved dental service also include outreach clinics, like the Marion County clinic Fitzgerald and her three sons took advantage of.
Marion County held four clinics for National Dental Health Month this February. A total of 57 families participated.