***UPDATED: September 12, 2013*** A new organization has been established to help decrease the so-called “Dental Divide” in America. Dentists for Oral Health Innovation (DOHI) was founded by a diverse group of dentists and represents thousands of dental care professionals nationwide who are committed to patient care, continuing education, technology, and philanthropy, according to a recent Dental-Tribune article. The organization claims that there is a significant shortage of dentists, with most U.S. states having only 65 dentists per 100,000 people. Additionally, there are approximately 130 million individuals without dental insurance coverage, with many not understanding the important role oral health has in achieving and maintaining overall wellness.
President Obama’s health care reform, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been in the news again recently with the breaking of several scandals that are affecting the credibility of the administration. But even before the latest news stories broke, the American Dental Association (ADA), publicly called out the new law for falling short in lowering dental care costs, increasing access to care, and improving health outcomes. According to a research brief from the ADA’s Health Policy Resources Center (HPRC), while state Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program require dental benefits for youngsters, there are no requirements for adult care, leaving many to feel that the “dental divide” will only continue to grow nationwide.
Managing vice president of HPRC, Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., was quoted in a recent ADA News article saying that “the mouth is the gateway to the body and oral health is a key part of whole body health, [and] the Affordable Care Act fails to address critical access to dental care issues in the United States.” Three research briefs were published, examining how the ACA will affect dental benefits. Key points from those documents include:
- The ACA will offer more children dental benefits. Approximately 8.7 million children are estimated to gain dental benefits by 2018, reducing the number of kids who lack benefits by about 55%.
- Only 5% fewer adults are expected to be without dental benefits, with nearly 18 million gaining some level of coverage from the ACA.
- The Medicaid system is likely to feel significant pressure due to an estimated 10.4 million dental visit increase each year through Medicaid by 2018.
- Evidence shows that reforming Medicaid, specifically increasing reimbursement rates, would increase access to dental care. While rates are expected to increase for physicians, the ACA does not do enough to address low dental provider reimbursements at the state level.
American Dental Association President, Robert A. Faiella, believes that the reports make a compelling case for the need to act now in the growing oral disease epidemic nationwide. Dr. Vujicic agrees, calling on states to pick up where the Affordable Care Act fell short.