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Dentist Participation in Colorado Medicaid Increases after State Improves Program

April 20, 2015

More needy Colorado adults are receiving dental care due to improvements in the state’s adult Medicaid coverage and a program that asks dentists to treat low-income people.

Nearly 300,000 Colorado adults were expected to qualify for limited dental coverage when legislation expanding Medicaid offerings took effect last year. Now, the state provides a number of dental services, including restorative treatment, root canals, crowns, surgical procedures and full/partial dentures. Adult Medicaid enrollees are allowed as much as $1,000 in dental services per year.

Dr. Carol Morrow, who practices in the rural town of Walsh in southeastern Colorado, said the number of Medicaid patients she treats doubled during the past year. Now, nearly 40 percent of her patients have Medicaid.

“When I had an influx of Medicaid patients, it was kind of a shock to me, even though I’m very familiar with the program and testified before Senate committees to get adult dental Medicaid benefits implemented in Colorado,” she said. “We had a steep learning curve in terms of knowing what Medicaid would cover, how to properly submit the paperwork and how to get reimbursed for the services.”

The increase in Medicaid patients also means that Dr. Morrow had to change the way she practices.

“I’ve had to learn to be a little more efficient and manage things differently than I did in the past,” she said. “I rely on my assistants a lot more to prepare my patients for and educate them about the treatment that I will perform.”

Dr. Morrow said her new patients are extremely grateful to finally receive the dental care they need.

“My favorite story is about a grandmother who took care of her children and grandchildren her entire life,” she said. “She needed care for so long, but went without it. When I told her that I could make her dentures, she burst into tears.”

Dr. Morrow said that many of her adult Medicaid patients haven’t been to a dentist since they were children. That means that many need extensive restorative treatment.

“The goal of the adult benefits was to provide preventive care, but right now we’re dealing with a lot of patients who need extensive work,” she said. “The preventive aspect is crucial, and I think we’ll see that take shape down the road once we teach people how to take care of themselves.”

She added: “It’s really just changing a mindset. It will come, but we have to get them in our offices and talk to them.”

The number of dentists who see more than 30 Medicaid patients in their practices increased 28 percent between the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, according to the Colorado Medicaid program.

The Colorado Dental Association attributes a portion of the increase in provider participation to the Take 5 program, which asks member dentists to provide care for a minimum of five Medicaid patients or their families, according to Molly Pereira, associate executive director of the association.

“We hope that even more of our member dentists will commit to treating Medicaid patients during the coming years as policies and programs are implemented to improve how dentists work with Medicaid,” said Ms. Pereira.