DENTISTS SERVING UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES
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Illinois has 8,500 practicing dentists, many of which offer specialty care and plenty to meet oral health care needs of residents. However, low funding levels make it impossible for dentists to maintain a practice in areas of the state with a high concentration of public aid patients. The need for increased funding is reinforced by 2010 data from the federal government which shows that the number of counties designated as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAвЂ™s) has been growing since the late 1970s. These underserved areas are determined based on the number of dentists compared to the overall population, or the number of dentists enrolled in the Medicaid program compared to the Medicaid population.
INCREASED ORAL HEALTH CARE FUNDING IS PROVEN TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO CARE
A study conducted by the National Academy for State Health Policy looked at six states where funding levels were raised to simply cover a dentistвЂ™s expenses and found access to dental services for patients increased significantly. The number of dentists enrolled in public aid programs to treat low income patients increased by at least one-third and in some cases doubled. In its own 40 state study, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent Congressional agency, found that вЂњdentists cite the primary reason for not treating more Medicaid patients is that payment rates are too low.вЂќ The study further shows, вЂњmost states that reported improved utilization, paid rates that were at least two-thirds of the average regional fee, while most states without improvement had lower payment rates.вЂќ
In 2005, federal law required states to provide children with the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit. It was mandated that Medicaid cover comprehensive preventive dental care for children. As a result, funding levels were increased to enable providers to treat more patients, which translated into improved access and better care for children. A study of low-income children showed that parents who received preventive dental care were five times more likely to take their children for a dental visit, compared with parents who received no dental care or visited a dentist only in emergency situation.