Delaware Public Media

Expansion of low income dental services takes first legislative step

May 15, 2019

A bill expanding access to dental services for low-income adults on Medicaid sailed through a Senate committee Wednesday.

Delaware is one of just three states that do not offer dental benefits to Medicaid recipients over 21 years old. Under State Sen. Bryan Townsend’s (D-Newark) legislation, that group would have a $3 copay and would be limited to $1,000 worth of dental services annually. The Department of Health and Social Services could approve an additional $1,500 in emergency care.

Delaware Public Media recently dove into the issue of access of dental care for low-income adults. Dan Meara, who chairs Christiana Care’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial & Hospital Dentistry, said untreated dental problems can cause infections and abscesses in the face, the neck and jaw areas. Some patients can spend days in intensive care or even die.

Dover Pediatrician Julia Pillsbury is married to a dentist and chairs the Medicaid/Medicare Advisory Committee. She said she treats many disabled children who lose their dental access when they turn 21.

“The general treatment is to extract teeth," she said. "We need our teeth. You need to be able eat, you need to be able to use your teeth and if you could get dental care before you needed them extracted, you would be much better off.”

If passed, the bill would go into effect Jan 1st. The estimated budget impact for fiscal year 2020 is about $2.5 million.

But Townsend said he’s likely to introduce a substitute version which will move the effective date to April. That will cut the cost for the coming year in half and allow more time for implementation.