Most Medicaid children in four states don’t receive proper dental care partly because dentists refuse to treat patients that frequently miss appointments, according to a government watchdog.
Just one in four Medicaid children in California, Indiana, Louisiana and Maryland receive proper dental care, according to the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general. Lack of such care could cause serious and costly health issues later.
“We found that three out of four children did not receive all required dental services, with one in four children failing to see a dentist at all,” the IG said in a report made public Monday. Over one-quarter of Medicaid children, or more than one million, didn’t receive any dental services for at least two years, while another 14 percent only had one visit.
Part of the problem is that dentists don’t want to treat Medicaid patients.
“The states we reviewed reported facing shortages of participating dental providers and challenges in educating families about the importance of regular dental care,” the report said. “Officials further noted a reluctance of some providers to participate in Medicaid because of low reimbursement rates and administrative burdens.”
The IG also noted that “some providers are concerned that Medicaid patients are more likely to miss appointments, with providers in one state complaining of ‘no show’ rates as high as 50 percent.”
The four states tried incentivizing dentists to join Medicaid by increasing provider reimbursement rates and offering student loan repayments.
“In spite of these efforts, officials noted that in some areas, there was an extremely limited number of dentists,” the report said. “While the states reported that they employ a variety of strategies to address these problems, they need to do more to ensure that children receive needed dental care.”
Additionally, would-be dental patients could face serious health issues without proper, consistent treatment.
“When children lack dental care, untreated decay and infection in their mouths can result in preventable emergency room visits or more complicated and expensive dental and medical interventions later in life,” the report said. “Preventable dental conditions were the primary cause of more than 850,000 emergency room visits in 2009.”
The IG highlighted one case where a 12-year-old Maryland boy couldn’t find a Medicaid dentist to treat his tooth pain and ultimately died after a trip to the emergency room.
Despite their seeming unwillingness to treat Medicaid children, nearly 500 dentists in California billed Medicaid nearly $175 million for potentially fake, unneeded, or shoddy work on kids in 2012, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported.
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