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CDHC Helps New Pennsylvania Medicaid Patients Navigate Public Health Care System

September 25, 2015

More adults in Pennsylvania are eligible for dental coverage under Medicaid thanks to changes that have streamlined that program. As a result, more people in need of dental treatment are flooding to community health centers throughout the state.

Lori Wood works at Wayne Memorial Community Health Systems in Honesdale, a rural area in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania. As a Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC), Ms. Wood connects many people who are newly covered by Medicaid benefits with the dentists at her community health center.

Many people with Medicaid coverage turn to community health centers because they’re designed to provide care to the nation’s uninsured and underserved populations.

“In the past, many of these people were eligible for medical coverage under Medicaid, but not dental,” said Ms. Wood. “This year we’ve been inundated with a lot of new patients.”

Under former Gov. Tom Corbett, the state’s Office of Medical Assistance Programs, which administers Medicaid, provided three coverage options for adults. The private coverage option, which was designed for people who were not considered high-risk patients, did not include dental services.

Current Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this year announced changes that would streamline the state’s Medicaid offerings into a single, comprehensive adult benefit package that includes some limited dental care.

“This year we’ve seen a lot of adults who have major dental work that needs to be done,” said Ms. Wood. “It’s unbelievable. A lot of them seem embarrassed because of the state of decay in their mouths, and that they hadn’t been to a dentist until then.”

As a CDHC, Ms. Wood is trained to effectively communicate with people in her community. CDHCs usually come from the same types of communities in which they serve, often the actual communities in which they grew up. This all but eliminates cultural, language and other barriers that might otherwise reduce their effectiveness.

The CDHCs’ connections to their communities help establish trust and make them role models. By focusing on oral health education and disease prevention, the CDHC can empower people in underserved communities to manage their own oral health.

“As a CDHC I’m a great help because of the motivational interviewing skills that I learned during my training,” said Ms. Wood. “That can be as simple as just looking the patient in the eye and having an open conversation with them.”