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Commentary Health Care

Lawmakers: Now Is the Time for Equity in Maryland Medicaid for Dental Coverage

Medicaid
Pixabay.com photo by Movidagrafica.

By Sens. Malcolm Augustine and Guy Guzzone and Dels. Bonnie Cullison and Mike McKay

Augustine, a Democrat, represents Prince George’s County’s Senate District 47. Guzzone, a Democrat, represents Howard County’s Senate District 13. Cullison, a Democrat, represents Montgomery County’s House District 19. McKay, a Republican, represents Allegany and Washington counties’ House District 16.

When it comes to public health care, Maryland doesn’t often find itself listed at the bottom of the pack nationally. It is unacceptable that Maryland, along with just two other states — Tennessee and Alabama — fail to cover adult dental care in its Medicaid program.

In fact, our state used to cover this critically important component of good health, but unfortunately it was cut during tough budget times in 1992. Sadly, it’s been more than a quarter century since some of our most vulnerable adults had access to dental care.

With a significantly improved budget outlook, now is the time to pass and fund a law that includes oral health care access for Maryland’s Medicaid patients. About 750,000 Maryland adults — nearly one in five Marylanders — do not have a reliable source of dental coverage that meets even the most basic health care needs.

This bill is not only about ensuring equity in access to health care, it is also the fiscally prudent and financially responsible step for the state of Maryland to take. Adding adult dental coverage to Maryland Medicaid is an investment, especially if we can leverage 60% of these costs in matching federal dollars.

Without this coverage, tens of thousands of Marylanders end up with serious health problems every year and turn to emergency rooms as a last resort for treatment. With routine dental care, millions of dollars will be saved by avoiding costly emergency room expenses.

As the House and Senate bill sponsors, we have come together to introduce bipartisan legislation that would finally fund these services needed to prevent many other serious health issues and even death. Untreated dental issues can lead to situations ranging from fatal drug overdoses due to chronic pain to detrimental quality of life to excessive and costly medical bills due to untreated dental care and lack of access.

The death of Deamonte Driver in 2007, a 7th-grader from Prince George’s County who died from complications of an untreated abscessed tooth due to lack of access to dental care for Medicaid patients, eventually led Maryland to becoming the best state in the nation for children covered by Medicaid.

As stated in our testimony, Maryland must follow the data that demonstrates dental coverage improves overall health and saves money in managing chronic diseases and substance use disorders. Perhaps even more important, we need to recognize the dignity of all those who participate in Medicaid.

The time has come for Maryland to join the 47 other states who provide this basic care to its citizens.