Dental care has traditionally been financed and delivered separately from medical care. This is despite the Surgeon General’s report in 2000 that emphasizes the importance of oral health to whole body health. Now, new data show the consequences of the approach taken in U.S. health care policy to oral health.
Medicaid Children Seeing Big Gains in Access to Dental Care
The American Dental Association Health Policy Institute (HPI) recently launched The Oral Health Care System: A State-By-State Analysis. This first-of-its-kind data repository brings together data from multiple sources related to oral health and is meant to serve policy makers and researchers. One of the most significant findings from these data is that access to dental care has been increasing steadily among Medicaid children for more than a decade.
Nationally, the percent of Medicaid children who visited a dentist within the past twelve months went from 29% in 2000 to 48% in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. What is striking is that the trend is remarkably widespread across states, with all but one state experiencing gains over this time frame. As a result, the gap in dental care utilization between Medicaid- and privately-insured children has been shrinking steadily. In fact, it narrowed in every single state for which we have data between 2005 and 2013 (see figure below). There are two states – Hawaii and Texas – where there is actually a “reverse gap”: children enrolled in Medicaid are more likely to visit a dentist than children who have private dental benefits. Moreover, this progress has all been happening during a time when the number of children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been rising steadily. In 2013, nearly four out of ten children in the U.S. were enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP compared to two out of ten in 2000.