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Health panel lays over bill on community-based dental care pilot project

Some people avoid dentists out of fear — justified or not — of having a painful experience.

Others can’t get dental care due to financial reasons, mobility issues, or language or cultural barriers.

HF4472 can’t help the first category of people overcome their fears, but it would help those in the second to access dental care.

It would require the Department of Human Services to establish a pilot project to fund dental homes, which are clinical practices providing dental care in community settings such as schools, homeless shelters, and group homes.

“The goal is to ensure high-quality, patient-centered, comprehensive and coordinated oral health services for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare members,” said Rep. Liz Reyer (DFL-Eagan), who sponsors the bill.

The House Health Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. There is no Senate companion.

“This approach lends itself to culturally specific care and helps address disparities in health outcomes,” Reyer said.

The bill calls for the pilot project to begin by July 1, 2023, and to be based on the recommendations developed by the Dental Services Advisory Committee established by the Legislature in 2021.

Dental home providers would be selected based on geographic distribution; provider size, type, and location; providers serving different priority populations; health equity issues; and provider accessibility for patients with varying levels and types of disability, Reyer said.

The bill would appropriate an unspecified amount of money to the Department of Human Services in each fiscal year from 2023 to 2027.

Dr. Mike Helgeson, CEO of Tree Dental, said his nonprofit organization’s mobile units delivered dental care last year to more than 95,000 patients, serving 85 of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

“New technologies such as teledentistry … and promising workforce models including collaborative dental hygiene practice and dental therapy have the potential to provide better care at lower cost,” he said.

The Department of Human Services would be required, within six months of the project’s end, to report results to the Legislature and include recommendations on whether aspects of the project should be extended to all Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare dental providers.

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