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Advocates see "big win" in proposal for expanded dental coverage

dentist stock photo
Courtesy of the Michigan Dental Association

More low-income people in Michigan could have access to dental coverage if a new budget proposal makes it through the state Legislature.

And advocates say that could improve health care overall for the state.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer proposed an additional $243 million to expand dental care coverage to Medicaid recipients in her annual budget proposal. The proposal also includes additional funding to increase reimbursement rates, which could entice more dentists to accept low-income patients.

“This is something that is really important to the overall health of Michiganders,” says Dr. Deborah Brown, CEO of My Community Dental Centers. “It’s a long time coming. And if the Legislature and the governor are able to push this through, it’s going to be a really huge win for not only the oral health of Michiganders, but the overall health of Michiganders.”

Brown says, as more studies continue to show the connection between oral health and overall health, expanding dental access for low-income residents will have impacts well-beyond teeth. And that could even have ripple effects out in the economy, she says.

“I’ve had people in practice, you know when I’ve delivered that denture, or fixed their front teeth say to me, ‘Oh now, I can go for an interview, so I can get a job,’” Brown says.

My Community Dental Centers primarily serves underserved clients, and those who are low-income, Brown says. It has 34 centers around the state and treats about 90,000 patients a year.

Brown says Michigan already offers full health coverage for low-income, Medicaid-eligible kids under age 21 through the Healthy Kids Dental program. The new proposal from Governor Whitmer would replicate that and expand full coverage to Medicaid-eligible adults.

The proposal also has the support of the Michigan Dental Association.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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