Minnesota doesn’t very often come in last among all states, but it does come in dead last for medical assistance payments to dentists.
That’s because Minnesota hasn’t increased its dentist pay rate since the early 1980s, and it’s now about 31 cents on the dollar, said Jane Neubauer, regional dental services coordinator for Partnership4Health. in Otter Tail County. This is less than a third of what clinics receive from non-AD patients.
It’s also why there’s a waiting list of 1,342 people for an appointment at Apple Tree Dental in Hawley. This does not include existing patients – these are new people trying to come in to see a dentist. “It’s a really bad situation,” Neubauer said. These people are hoping that someone will cancel an appointment so they can get in. At the end of each month, they must re-register on the waiting list, Neubauer said.
There’s a reason Apple Tree is overwhelmed: no one else will be taking new patients from Medical Assistance. “There are no dental clinics in Becker County that are accepting new Medic Assist patients,” she added. “A few clinics will serve existing AD patients, but not new ones.”
Apple Tree is considered a critical access dental care provider because more than 25% of its patients are enrolled in Minnesota medical insurance plans. As a critical access provider, Apple Tree receives a higher rate of pay — about 48 cents on the dollar, Neubauer said.
Not being able to see a dentist can be a big problem for children – they miss out on protective treatment and regular dental care, and an unhealthy mouth has been shown to cause health problems throughout the body, said the Commissioner of Becker County, Barry Nelson. “We all know that dental health is at the heart of your health,” he said at Tuesday’s county council meeting.
Council chairman Ben Grimsley reported the issue to the full council after Neubauer informed the county’s social services committee of the issue.
Unfortunately, it’s not just a few children who fall through the cracks: In Becker County, two-thirds of the 1,734 children (aged 5 and under) receiving medical assistance last year did not couldn’t see a dentist. Only about 600 of those children were able to see a dentist, she said.
In Otter Tail County, only 669 out of 2,437 children saw a dentist last year, she said.
“Health care for young patients prevents bigger problems down the road,” Neubauer said. “It’s painful for the patients and expensive for the system,” she said, because expensive emergency room care is the only other option for those who can’t get dental help.
And the problem isn’t going away: There are now 1.5 million Minnesotans on medical assistance, up from about 500,000 about 20 years ago, Neubauer said.
Minnesota’s Medical Assistance Program is funded by a combination of federal Medicaid and state health care dollars, and it would cost Minnesota about $170 million a year to raise its compensation rate from 85% medical assistance for dental work, but that would take care of a mouthful of problems, says Neubauer.