Category Archives: Oral health

Tennessean reporter investigates complaints over Medicaid dental provider

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Tom Wilemon

Tom Wilemon

Quite a few folks in Tennessee are upset right now with DentaQuest, the giant dental benefits company that took over the contract to provide oral health services to poor kids under the state’s Medicaid program earlier this year.

Two hundred black dentists are riled that they were cut from the provider network. The state dental association has withdrawn its support for DentaQuest’s contract. And some consumers (including a group home operator) are saying the company is making it harder for patients to get the care they need.

Meanwhile, company officials insist that no child with TennCare benefits has lost access to dental care under their watch. They defend their performance in Tennessee, saying that screenings have increased and that the state network of 864 providers – one for every 857 patients – exceeds nationally recommended standards.

What is going on? The Tennessean’s Tom Wilemon has been working to find out. His story last month offered a look at the situation.

In this Q&A, he gives an update and some additional insights into his reporting. He also shares some wisdom with others who might find themselves tackling a similar story.

Reporter looks into rise in kids’ orthodontic care in Wash.

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Jlhopgood via flickr.

Image by Jlhopgood via flickr.

Though a state investigation has failed to prove that any dental providers committed fraud, scandal still hovers over Texas’ Medicaid orthodontic program.

Now questions are being raised in Washington, where there has been a spike in the number of poor kids with braces. Medicaid orthodontic spending in the state jumped from $884,000 for braces for just 1,240 kids in 2007 to nearly $27 million for 21,369 children last year, Sheila Hagar reported in a July 5 package for the Union-Bulletin in Walla Walla, Wash.

What is going on? Hagar talked to a Walla Walla orthodontist, Thomas Utt, D.D.S., in her quest to find out. Utt has been worrying about the increase and has been raising concerns on the state level.

“We should be taking care of people who really have a need,” Utt told Hagar. But “need” appears to be a moving and subjective target in the state when it comes to braces, Hagar reported. Continue reading

Dentist recognized for outreach, treatment of nursing home residents

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Untreated oral disease can have a devastating impact upon frail elders.

Yet significant financial and physical barriers prevent many from getting the care they need. (See related tip sheet, “Getting dental care to elders in nursing homes.”)

The lack of dental services is particularly acute for many of the 1.4 million seniors living in nursing homes, placing them at increased risk for everything from pain and tooth loss to poor nutrition and serious, even fatal infections.

“Brushing teeth becomes a life or death thing for many patients,” dentist Gregory Folse, D.D.S., told AHCJ members who joined a recent webinar dedicated to exploring the challenges of getting care to vulnerable nursing home residents.

Folse, whose innovative mobile dental practice is dedicated to getting care to more than two dozen Louisiana nursing homes, spends his days addressing those challenges.

It turns out his efforts are deeply appreciated in his community of Lafayette, La. Folse was recently named Dentist of the Year by a local nonprofit.

Bill Decker, community editor of The Advertiser in Lafayette used the award as a peg to create a feature story in words and video about Folse and the people he serves. Continue reading

Listeners hear from patients, dentists at charity dental clinic

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Katie Hiler

Katie Hiler

KBIA Mid-Missouri Public Radio listeners were recently offered an insightful report on the problems poor adults in the state have been facing in getting dental care.

Nearly a decade ago, Missouri eliminated funding for all Medicaid beneficiaries except children, pregnant women and the disabled.

The move “left a lot of people with only bad options,” reporter Katie Hiler explained, borrowing a quote from the film “Argo.”

To illustrate the point, Hiler invited her audience along on a visit to a rare charity clinic called Smiles of Hope, run out of a converted church attic. At the clinic, dentist William Kane spoke of his efforts to meet the overwhelming need for services such as emergency extractions.

Hiler ended her report with some news. A decision by the Missouri legislature to restore funding for adult dental care under Medicaid is expected to help to give some poor Missourians more options, she observed.

Yet at the same time, 300,000 low-income adults who would qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are at this point shut out because of the state’s refusal to expand the program.

“Which means,” Hiler noted in closing, “Smiles of Hope isn’t going anywhere.”

In a Q&A for AHCJ, Hiler offers some thoughts on what got her started on this story and how her work unfolded. She also shares some wisdom on what it takes to make a radio story come alive.

Study: Midlevel providers expand dental care to those in need

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Herry Lawford via flickr.

Image by Herry Lawford via flickr.

From dental therapists working in clinics in rural Alaska and urban Minnesota to hygienists using telehealth technology in California schools, innovative models are showing promise in getting cost-effective dental care to some of the millions of Americans who now lack it, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Today’s report, “Expanding the Dental Team,” examines three nonprofit settings where midlevel dental providers are employed as part of larger dental teams. The paper concludes that the workers have successfully expanded services to previously underserved populations; and that their employment is a cost-efficient method of delivering care.

The report offers case studies of a tribal-owned clinic in Alaska; a federally qualified health center in Minneapolis and a telehealth project operated by the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry at sites in California.

Study researchers conducted site visits, interviewed dental team members, clinic administrators and patients and reviewed practice records for the three programs. They found wide variation among the practices but concluded that all three models allowed nonprofits to stretch their funds while providing increase access to care. Continue reading

Gwynn’s death puts spotlight on smokeless tobacco

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Bisayan lady via flickr.

Image by Bisayan lady via flickr.

San Diego Padres’ great Tony Gwynn died June 16 from cancer of the salivary gland.

He blamed his cancer on his use of smokeless tobacco throughout his 20-year career. Now other players and officials are taking a look at the addiction’s deep and enduring grip on the sport.

“Smokeless kills,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy in a June 18 story. “And yet big league ballplayers, coaches and managers still use smokeless tobacco. It’s a baseball thing, and it’s killing players, and many don’t want to stop. Or they can’t stop.”

Continue reading

Complaints about dental benefits provider mounting

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

The rumblings in Tennessee started earlier this year, after a new company took over the contract to provide dental services to the state’s children covered by Medicaid.

Now the state dental association, a number of black dentists, a youth-home operator and at least one angry grandmother are weighing in against the Boston-based dental benefits giant DentaQuest. They claim the company is making it harder for poor kids in the state to get dental care.

The Tennessean’s Tom Wilemon captured the mood in a June 6 story, “Complaints Mount about TennCare Dental Provider:”    Continue reading

New analysis presents more nuanced view of oral health among Hispanic population

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Research has shown that U.S. Hispanics have poorer oral health than non-Hispanic whites. For example, untreated tooth decay is nearly twice as common among Hispanic primary school children than among non-Hispanic whites.

Only 19 percent of working-age Hispanic adults in America have all their teeth, compared to 35 percent of whites, according to the findings of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Yet disparities also exist among U.S. Hispanics and Latinos of different national backgrounds, a major new study finds.

Continue reading

Tips from Texas for covering Medicaid fraud, overtreatment

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Becca Aaronson

For the past two years, as a health writer for the Texas Tribune, Becca Aaronson has been covering the state’s Medicaid orthodontic scandal.

A 2012 federal audit found that Texas Medicaid and Healthcare Partnership (TMHP), a Xerox subsidiary that had been processing Medicaid claims for the state since 2004, had been “essentially rubber-stamping” dental claims.

Questions about the system were first brought to light in the 2011 “Crooked Teeth” investigation aired by WFAA-Dallas. Aaronson credits that strong coverage with helping get her started on this story.

Aaronson’s most recent stories offered readers an update on the state investigation into allegations of widespread fraud and unnecessary treatment.

In a May 9 piece, she reported on the decision by the state Health and Human Services Commission to terminate its contract with TMHP.  In addition, the office of the Texas Attorney General is suing Xerox in hopes of reclaiming hundreds of millions of dollars the company allegedly paid out for medically unnecessary Medicaid claims, she wrote.

In a recent conversation, Aaronson shared what got her interested in the story, how she pursued it over an extended period of time, how she got the documents she needed and her advice on using Medicaid claims data to report on potential fraud or overtreatment. Read more here.

When a charity clinic is only option for dental care

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Official U.S. Nacy Page via flickr.

Image by Official U.S. Navy Page via flickr.

Reporter Katie Hiler decided to look into dental care for the poor in Missouri. The situation, she concluded in her reporting for KBIA Mid-Missouri Public Radio, might best be summed up by a quote from the film Argo: “There are only bad options. It’s about finding the best one.”

Nearly a decade ago, the state eliminated funding for all Medicaid beneficiaries except children, pregnant women and the disabled, she explained.

The move “left a lot of people with only bad options,” she says in a May 15 report.

“Many find themselves in the ER with tooth infections, where cost for treatment per patient can run on average around $9,000. Some try to find affordable care at Federally Qualified Health Centers where services are discounted for low-income patients, but aren’t free.” For the very poor, she added “the only option is charity dental care.” Continue reading