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Wisconsin sees issues in dental care access

March 3, 2018

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin dentists say some patients have a hard time getting treatment because the state hasn’t given the industry the same funding when compared to other health services.

A four-county pilot program launched in October 2016 that gave some dentists in the state a boost with higher Medicaid rates, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. A formal evaluation of the program’s impact on improving access will be released later this year, state officials said.

Less than a third of Wisconsin children on Medicaid got dental care in 2015, the lowest rate in the U.S., according to federal sources. Many adults end up in the emergency room for dental care.

“In 2016 there were over 32,000 emergency department visits for preventable oral health conditions. And when you look at data and break it down, most of those people coming in have either abscesses or something that’s occurred because of a lack of poor oral hygiene,” said Laura Rose, vice president of policy development with the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Low-income patients often don’t see dental care as a priority because they have more pressing needs, said Monica Hebl, with the Wisconsin Dental Association.

“Because of so many of the other things that are going on in their lives, trying to pay the bills and get food on the table, so when we talk about brushing twice a day that just kind of goes down to the bottom of the list,” she said.

Physically getting to a dentist can also be difficult, said Michael Schwartz-Oscar, executive director Oral Health Partnership, a nonprofit dental clinic that’s part of the pilot program.

“If you can imagine, some of them have a lot of barriers to transportation, some of them are looking for jobs, have interviews, so we get a ton of cancellations,” said Schwartz-Oscar. “We have to overfill our schedule so that we can continue.”

Dentists are now allowed to provide limited treatment in nursing homes, primary care clinics and other settings under a new state law. State Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, and Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, have also introduced a bill that would allow for dental therapists, midlevel providers that are similar to physician assistants.

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Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, http://www.wpr.org

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