A new study is providing retroactive justification for reinstating dental coverage for Medicaid patients in South Carolina. A study published in Health Affairs shows that when California stopped covering dental insurance for adults as part of Medicaid — something South Carolina did about the same time — the result was a sharp increase in the number of emergency room visits related to dental emergencies.
A Dramatic Increase in Need
Researchers found that when California stopped covering dental visits through Medicaid, the number of people seeking emergency dental care jumped precipitously. When the policy change took effect, the number of people seeking dental care in the emergency room increased by 32%. Even more striking, the cost for these visits increased by more than twice as much: a full 68%.
Why Emergency Room Dental Care Isn’t Ideal
The emergency room is not the best place to get your dental care. When people go to the emergency room for dental care, they rarely receive care that really improves their oral health. People are prescribed medications like painkillers and antibiotics rather than being given proper treatment for gum disease or infected teeth. Seriously threatened teeth may be extracted without consideration of whether they might be saved or the possibility of replacing them with dental implants.
The Cost and Benefits of Dental Coverage
From a standpoint of expenses, though, dropping coverage might be considered a win for California. Stopping adult dental coverage for Medicaid patients resulting in a savings of some $246 million per year. In comparison, the increase cost for emergency room visits of $1.25 million is quite modest.
(Incidentally, this tells us that Medicaid recipients make up a relatively small portion of those going to the emergency room for dental care. Visits to the emergency room for dental care cost about $900 million a year. Based on a simple population breakdown, we might expect California to account for about $100 million of that, which means that Medicaid patients accounted for just about 1% of total emergency room visits for dental care, which is remarkable considering that perhaps 23% of Californians were on Medicaid at the time covered by the study.)
However, the equation is not one-sided. As Governor Haley’s Medicaid director noted in pursuing restored coverage in South Carolina, having good oral health makes people more employable. People without good teeth can find it a lot harder to get a job. Failing to include dental coverage means that once people find themselves in the Medicaid system, they are more likely to be stuck there.
And then there’s the question of quality of life. People with good oral health enjoy a higher quality of life. If poor oral health is damaging your quality of life and you are looking for a dentist in Columbia, SC, please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment at Smile Columbia Dentistry.