Hispanic children from low-income families have the highest use rate for dental services – 76 percent – in the state’s HUSKY A (Medicaid) program in 2012. That was greater than the rates for African-American children (70 percent) and Caucasian children (72 percent).
That data is part of a report called “Something to Smile About: Successfully Reducing Dental Access Disparities,” issued by the Connecticut Health Foundation. It shows that the percentage of children continuously enrolled in Medicaid who visited a dentist at least once each year increased from 45.9 percent in 2006 to 71.6 percent in 2012.
“Connecticut has been a leader and in the forefront of ensuring that its children, especially under-served children, have access to dental health services,” the report said.
The study’s co-authors, Tryfon Beazoglou, professor emeritus, and Dr. Joanna Douglass, associate professor, both at UConn’s School of Dental Medicine, attribute the improvement to changes implemented in 2008, when the state increased reimbursement rates to about 70 percent of average fees dentists charged to privately insured children in 2005, and simplified the administration of the program. The previous rates had been set in 1993.
“Low-income children are much more likely to suffer oral health disease, but are also much less likely to obtain dental care,” their report noted. Historically, in Connecticut, a significant barrier to care has been low private dentist participation in Medicaid, which many providers attributed to low reimbursement rates and cumbersome program administration.
From 2009 to 2012, more children used dental services every year regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity. Out of the state’s 169 cities and towns, 152 had dental utilization rates of 60 percent or higher in 2012, as opposed to four municipalities in 1999.
On the provider side, the number of dentists participating in the Medicaid program increased from 595 in 2006 to 1,230 in 2012.
Connecticut’s 2012 dental utilization rate for Medicaid children was even higher than the averages for privately insured children, which were 65 percent nationally and 68 percent in the state.
According to Beazoglou, “this rate is probably the highest in the country.”