Radio reporter discusses Medicaid dental coverage and how his health emergency influenced his work

Mary Otto

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.

Photo: Andy Marso / Heartland Health MonitorDr. John Fasbinder, shown working on a patient, was featured in a recent public radio piece by KHI News Service’s Andy Marso about rural dental care challenges for Medicaid recipients.

Photo: Andy Marso / Heartland Health MonitorDr. John Fasbinder, shown working on a patient, was featured in a recent public radio piece by KHI News Service’s Andy Marso about rural dental care challenges for Medicaid recipients.

It is a scenario that regularly plays out in statehouses during times of fiscal austerity: funding for Medicaid dental services goes on the chopping block. A shortage of Medicaid dental providers already is a major problem in many communities and dentists often blame low reimbursement rates and budget cuts for making the problem worse.

Reporter Andy Marso has been following the problem in Kansas. He recently used the story of a dental provider’s ongoing struggle to get needed care to poor and disabled patients to capture the worries about the latest round of anticipated cuts to the state’s Medicaid dental program.

In a piece that aired in August on KCUR-FM, a National Public Radio affiliate in Kansas City, Mo., Marso took listeners to the busy Prairie Village dental office of John Fasbinder, a rare Kansas dental provider who takes all comers, including patients with special needs. The dentist told Marso that he tries to persuade fellow dentists to expand their practices to include more Medicaid patients, but without much success.

“That is because Kansas Medicaid, or KanCare, pays about 40 cents on the dollar compared to private insurance for dental work,” Marso reported. “And that was before Gov. Sam Brownback cut the reimbursements another 4 percent this year to help close persistent budget gaps.”

In this new Q and A, Marso offers thoughts on his oral health coverage for the Topeka-based Kansas Health Institute (KHI) News Service, which is part of the Heartland Health Monitor news collaboration. He discusses issues playing out in Kansas and across the country, such as the shortage of Medicaid dentists, budget battles over funding and a long-running controversy over whether the use midlevel dental providers would ease the shortage of dental care for needy and rural state residents in places

Marso also shares some wisdom gleaned from a book-length exploration of his own life-threatening health crisis. He discusses how the journey made him a better journalist.

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