RICHMOND, Va. -- For the first time, Virginia is expanding its Medicaid program to provide comprehensive dental benefits to adults. Beginning July 1, more than 750,000 Virginians will be eligible for the expanded benefits.
VCU’s School of Dentistry, known for its efforts in providing dental care for Virginia’s uninsured and underserved communities, will be participating in the program.
Dr. Omar Abubaker, DMD, PhD., Chair and Professor of Oral and Facial Surgery, says VCU has long advocated for the dental health needs of lower-income Virginians.
“We always made it a part of our mission to take care of people in our community,” Abubaker says.
Aside from the patients seen every day in the school’s dental and oral surgery clinics, more than 68,000 others have benefited from the Mission of Mercy program. VCU launched MOM in 2000 in partnership with the Virginia Dental Association and Virginia Health Care Foundation.
Now even more patients, particularly in rural areas, will be eligible for a wider range of services. Medicaid expansion will provide $35 million in state and federal funds for adults to receive dental care.
Currently, Medicaid only pays for emergency tooth extractions for adults, but beginning July 1, benefits will include check-ups three times a year and other services such as fillings and dentures.
Abubaker says Medicaid expansion will prevent larger medical problems for patients further down the road.
“An infected tooth or abscess tooth could lead to an infection where the patient has to go to the operating room and have major surgery and stay in the hospital for a few days,” Abubaker says. “That’s a significant amount of money that society loses unnecessarily because the patient couldn’t afford access to care.”
The safety net program will serve more than 1.8 million Virginians, including 558,000 people who received health care coverage because of expanded eligibility.
However, the change in benefits will lead to a larger demand for dentists. So far, only 1,500 dentists state-wide have committed to serving adults under the expanded Medicaid benefit. Governor Ralph Northam is encouraging others to participate.
Virginia Dental Association Executive Director Ryan Dunn says currently, about 2,000 dentists provide dental services through Medicaid, but to get more to participate in the program, Dunn said the state must raise reimbursement rates.
Abubaker says he’s joining the effort to encourage others to participate.
“How can we convince providers to take Medicaid- adult Medicaid? I don’t know what it’s going to take to do that,” Abubaker says. “It will benefit patients and providers.”