Budget Cuts May Block Access to Dental Care

Christine Keeves, MPH, and the Oral Health Communications Coordinator at non-profit Health Care For All, says state budget cuts could mean no more critical oral health care for some of the state's most vulnerable residents:

In recent years, Massachusetts has led the nation by creating a new system to address our state’s health care needs. As we are increasingly used as a model for improving health care throughout the country, we must ensure that we protect some of the most critical pieces of this system, including oral health care.

With access to simple, cost-effective preventive care, we can keep our state and our nation healthy. Protecting these benefits is imperative for several reasons:
· Oral health is an essential part of overall health. Chronic oral infections are associated with complex health problems such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, low-birth weight, and premature infant births.
· Lack of preventive care causes the state to waste millions in extensive and costly services in emergency and inpatient hospital settings.
· Lack of comprehensive and consistent dental care prohibits many adults form entering or remaining in the workforce. Currently, 164 million hours of work are lost in US each year due to dental disease.

By law, the governor must balance the state budget, and on Thursday announced a $600 million deficit. Currently, Governor Patrick can only make up these deficits by cutting from certain types of programs, including public health.

Under these circumstances, we fear that the Governor will eliminate oral health coverage for nearly 700,000 adults, including more than 120,000 low-income seniors and 180,000 disabled individuals on MassHealth. This means that one in ten Bay Staters will lose access to services that are crucial to remaining healthy, contributing members of society.

However, Governor Patrick has requested that the legislature grant him authority to spread these cuts over wider arenas, sharing the burden more fairly across the state. There are several ways we can stand up to try save vital programs such as adult dental benefits in MassHealth. The governor must understand the importance of oral health to overall health, and the necessity of oral health care. We can also request that our state legislators grant the governor expanded authority to cut from a wider range of programs. Click here for more information.

As we are scrutinized by the country as an example of successful health reform, we cannot move backwards by cutting vital services. We must arm the Governor with the authority he needs to protect dental benefits to adults on MassHealth, and preserve our legacy of innovation and leadership.

This program aired on October 16, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.


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