Dental health and hygiene are about more than just having a good smile. Children and adults who have good dental health will generally be healthier and happier than those who don’t. Unfortunately, many Floridians don’t have access to dentists and other resources needed to keep their mouths, teeth, and body healthy.
Among the reasons Floridians do not receive regular preventive care include lack of dental coverage for adult Medicaid patients, lack of private-practice dentists willing to accept Medicaid’s low payment rates (only 15% do), lack of county health department resources, lack of affordable dental insurance or inability to meet high co-pays, and lack of awareness of the importance of dental health to overall health. When people lack proper coverage, sometimes the ER is the only oral health option. In 2014, Floridians visited the emergency room 165,000 times for tooth pain, costing about $234 million.
Importantly, Florida has achieved significant improvements in dental health in recent years, but the numbers show we also have far to go. For example, in its 2016/17 report, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) reported that 37% of children (1-20 yrs old) enrolled in FL Medicaid, received a preventive dental service. This is an increase from the previous year and an 18-percentage point increase over the FFY 2011 – 2012 report.
Medicaid is a crucial lifeline for millions of Florida’s children, seniors, and parents. It has improved health outcomes in our state’s most vulnerable communities and covers half of the children in Florida. Last month, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration announced plans to strengthen Medicaid by improving its dental benefits packages.
Our society often overlooks how dental health can impact the rest of the body. These dental plan changes are an important step forward in the fight to improve overall health outcomes. Nevertheless, Florida has a long way to go in making sure that hard working families and single adults in this state have access to life-securing coverage. Over 560,000 Floridians earning below 100% of poverty remain in the coverage gap and still don’t have access to health care. Access to Medicaid can also be vastly improved with no additional cost to the state through Medicaid expansion. According to the Florida Policy Institute, Medicaid expansion would’ve saved the state budget $501,950,000 this year alone.
AHCA has taken impressive and meaningful steps to improve the quality of care and health outcomes for Medicaid enrollees. Florida should now seize the opportunity to share these benefits in a way that transforms Florida into a model of a thriving economy built on the foundation of healthy communities.