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ADA, others ask CMS to fill chief dental officer position

December 18, 2017

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — The ADA and 13 other organizations are asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to prioritize hiring a chief dental officer or dentist clinician in a position of authority to oversee oral health issues in Medicare and Medicaid.

In a Dec. 15 letter to Eric D. Hargan, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the oral health groups urged the agency to fill the vacant position and to ensure that oral health services are prioritized in a manner equal to medical services.

“As we are close to the end of the year we remain concerned that CMS does not have the capacity to address clinical issues that may arise in programs under the agency’s authority,” the groups said, adding that Medicaid provides oral health services to millions of children, pregnant women and adults across the country.

The coalition pointed out that both the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program and Children’s Health Insurance Program require dental services to be provided to beneficiaries eligible for the programs. It also noted that CMS’s quality strategy “extends to oral health.”

“We believe that in addition to competent staff, a licensed dentist clinician is an invaluable resource to have available as the strategy moves forward.”

The groups reminded the agency that CMS adopted an oral health strategy in April 2011 following a detailed review of 16 states with dental utilization rates of 30 percent or less.

The strategy identified barriers to access to care for children and established oral health goals for Medicaid and CHIP. It also encouraged states to submit action plans with goals these programs with the intention of:

increasing the rate of children ages 1-20 who receive any preventive dental service by 10 percentage points over a five-year period;

and increasing the rate of children ages 6-9 who receive a dental sealant on a permanent molar tooth by 10 percentage points over a five-year period.

Because of these strategies, the groups noted that since 2011 many states have increased access to preventive services and the number of enrolled children that receive sealants on permanent molars.

“Our organizations want to work with the states and CMS to ensure the progress continues and the other elements included in the strategy such as the expansion of the dental home model and the development of additional approaches to increase access to care, among others, are addressed,” the coalition said. “It is crucial that innovation is fostered to ensure that enrollees in Medicaid and CHIP continue to have access to oral health services.

“Although we understand that a hiring freeze may be in place for the agency, we strongly urge CMS to fill the vacant [chief dental officer] position and to ensure that oral health services are prioritized in a manner equal to medical services,” the letter concluded. “Tooth decay is the most common, chronic disease for young children and accounts for both missed school days and pain. Regular access to preventive services, oral health education and necessary restorative treatment can go a long way in eliminating pain, preventing infection and disease and helping pave the way for children and adults to achieve optimal oral health.”

Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy efforts at ADA.org/advocacy.