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Illinois lawmakers revive adult dental benefits in Medicaid

July 21, 2014

By Kelly Soderlund

Springfield, Illinois — Illinois lawmakers restored adult dental benefits within Medicaid on July 1, two years after eliminating coverage.

The Illinois State Dental Society played a large role in persuading the Illinois General Assembly, and ultimately Gov. Pat Quinn, to approve a budget that includes funding for adult dental benefits. Since adult dental benefits were cut two years ago, the ISDS expressed its opposition and, as a consequence, identified restoring adult dental care as a key determinant in its future support for members of the General Assembly and the current administration, said Dave Marsh, ISDS director of government affairs.

The ISDS also formed a coalition with other entities affected by the cuts and began a grassroots campaign that educated legislators and the governor on the long-term economics behind leaving low-income adults without dental coverage.

"After this coverage was eliminated in 2012, all of the previously covered patients were going to hospital emergency rooms and just getting pain medication and antibiotics for their oral health problems and not fixing the problem," said Greg A. Johnson, ISDS executive director. "In the long run, those ER visits cost the state and taxpayers more money than an initial budget allocation for Medicaid coverage."

Lawmakers not only restored $35 million for the previous program, they expanded Medicaid coverage and funding to pay for the additional 400,000 adults the program will not cover under the federal Affordable Care Act, which is reimbursed at 100 percent for three years. There are now close to 1 million Illinois adults who now have dental benefits under Medicaid, Mr. Marsh said.

In other Illinois news:

• Dentists can now administer flu vaccines to patients ages 18 and older who have a prescription or a doctor's standing order.

• Retired health professionals, including dentists, can now obtain volunteer licenses for free or at a reduced cost to help at events such as a dental clinic.