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Grants proposed to help expand dental provider access to Minnesotans on public programs

Professionals recommend going to the dentist every six months.

That is, if you can find one.

For Minnesotans on public programs, not all dental providers accept their insurance. HF1296 intends to broaden access to those that do.

On Tuesday, the House Health Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over, as amended, for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

Sponsored by Rep. Liz Reyer (DFL-Eagan), it would make onetime appropriations to the Department of Health to award $20 million in grants to critical access dental providers for eligible dental infrastructure projects. Another $5 million in grants would go toward critical access dental providers and institutions of higher education for eligible dental workforce projects.

These are providers who specialize in caring for people on public programs that may have more complex dental needs, Reyer said.

Critical access dental providers include:

  • some nonprofit community clinics and publicly owned clinics;
  • dental clinics owned and operated by the University of Minnesota or Minnesota State; and
  • dentists in private practice whose patient base exceeds a threshold of uninsured, medical assistance or MinnesotaCare enrollment.

The dental workforce projects could allow providers to maintain capacity or expand services to medical assistance and MinnesotaCare enrollees. Additionally, projects would need to permit education, training, supervision or onboarding of dental professionals.

If awarded a grant, Southern Heights Dental Group would add additional physical exam space to continue to serve vulnerable populations, including those enrolled in Medicaid or MinnesotaCare, said Chief Operating Officer Kate Tonjum.

Many critical access providers cannot keep up with current demand.

Eric Colon, a licensed therapist and hygienist at Children’s Dental Services, has served more than 2,000 patients across the state during the past year using portable equipment. “I am never idle, and neither are any of my dental chairs or facilities.”

“In just one month, we had over 9,000 patients on Apple Tree’s waiting lists at our centers around the state, which is not acceptable,” said Dr. Mike Helgeson, CEO of Apple Tree Dental.

Republicans discussed expanding the bill’s scope to potentially target providers who don’t currently participate in public programs.

One bill can’t do everything, but one bill could do more, said Rep. Tom Murphy (R-Underwood).

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