Some dental clinics seeing influx of Medicaid clients under ACA

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Thanks to Medicaid expansion and stepped up enrollment efforts under the Affordable Care Act, adults in some states including Oregon, are now eligible for dental benefits.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo playerReporter Grace Joyal, of KTVZ-Bend, Ore., recently visited a rural dental clinic that has been coping with a significant increase in new patients.

“Since January 2014, the Oregon Health Plan reports that almost half a million people have signed up for the state’s version of Medicaid,” Joyal reported. “The Affordable Care Act has meant a massive influx of patients for dental clinics.”

An estimated 8.3 million adults nationwide were expected to become eligible for at least some dental benefits last year as a result of state Medicaid expansion and enrollment efforts under the nation’s health care reform law, the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute predicted in a 2014 study.

In the study, analysts provided a detailed look at how the unfolding of Medicaid expansion might open up access to poor adults across the country.

Have poor adults become eligible for dental benefits in your state under Medicaid expansion? Are they able to find care? Maybe now is a good time to find out.

In Joyal’s story, La Pine resident Loriann Landles, who had gone without insurance since 2009, said she was thrilled to be able to obtain care.

“I was like, ‘OK, let’s get our teeth cleaned!’” said Landles, who has joined the ranks of about 3,000 patients at a newly opened clinic in her community.

While children are entitled to a full range of dental benefits under Medicaid, coverage for adults varies widely from state to state. Some states offer few or no dental benefits to adults, but Oregon offers a range of dental services under its adult Medicaid program. With the influx of newly enrolled adults in the state, dental clinics such as the one in La Pine are working to cope with the pent-up demand for care, said Mike Sherry, chief executive of Redmond-based Advantage Dental Clinicsl.

“Low-income people haven’t been to the dentist for a long time,” Shirtcliff said, “So a lot of teeth are getting infected and a lot of dentures are getting made.”

While Landles has only recently been able to start seeing a dentist again, she’s made sure her children have never gone without dental care – and wouldn’t choose to, she told Joyal.

“I’ve worked really hard with all my kids to make sure their first dental visit was, like, fun,” the mother said.

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