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Reducing dental coverage

Published (4/10/2009)
By Patty Ostberg
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A 25 percent cut in dental services for non-pregnant adults on public programs could be forthcoming.

HF961, sponsored by Rep. Julie Bunn (DFL-Lake Elmo), would limit dental visits and types of care for patients, place certain restrictions on critical access care providers and authorize pilot projects to reduce the total cost to the state for dental services in public programs. The bill would reduce by $18 million spending from the General Fund and the Health Care Access Fund.

The House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division held it over April 7 for possible omnibus bill inclusion. There is no Senate companion.

Under the bill, patients would receive yearly periodic exams and certain X-rays. Comprehensive exams and panoramic X-rays would be limited to once every five years. Bunn said the intent is to “retain some level of dental benefit for adults in public health programs,” while saving some money. When coverage is not provided, hospitals have an increase in emergency room visits resulting in uncompensated care, she said.

Providers of critical access care would be subject to disciplinary actions. The restrictions on providers would help curb abuses in billing, frequency and quality that were reported by the working group that came up with the suggested cuts, Bunn said.

Under the governor’s budget, all dental benefits and the critical access program would be eliminated to save $47 million.

A notion that Dr. Anthony DiAngelis, chief of dentistry at Hennepin County Medical Center, called cruel and fraught with unintended consequences. “Dental services represent a miniscule portion of medical costs,” he said, adding that maintaining basic dental services is something patients need.

Dr. Michael Helgeson, a dentist and founder of Apple Tree Dental, expressed concern over the limitation of anesthesia in the bill, saying patients with brain injuries and Alzheimer’s disease need certain sedation procedures during dental visits, not just in the hospital.

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