We know that oral health is a foundation for good overall health. It affects employability, education and school attendance, and management of chronic disease.
WHILE attention to the Legislature often focuses on issues that divide us and on differences in philosophy and approach, we frequently find common ground. A good example is this session’s unprecedented capital investment to improve access to dental care for low-income people through new and expanded dental clinics.
To address a statewide oral-health crisis, urban and rural legislators of both parties from across the state are striking agreements on budgets that would bring relief to tens of thousands of Washingtonians. And as budget negotiators work through the special session, we must ensure that this investment is included in the final capital budget.
We’re talking about a historic $16 million investment to increase dental capacity throughout Washington state for Medicaid enrollees and the uninsured. Of that total, a one-time $2.7 million investment would provide facilities for dozens of new residential positions as well as additional clinic chairs in both Spokane and south Puget Sound to provide free care to Washingtonians on Medicaid. These represent permanent, sustainable residencies that would serve Washingtonians for generations to come while also providing more extended, experienced training for our future dentists.
In King County, the budget would support up to six new clinics or clinic expansions, including an expanded dental clinic in White Center to serve kids and adults, and dental facilities within a new high school being built in the Highline School District to serve students, families and nearby residents.
Investments in Seattle dental clinics include $1.4 million to Neighborcare Health, $1 million to Country Doctor Community Health Centers, $250,000 to Seattle Indian Health Care, and $182,000 to Sea Mar Community Health Centers.
We know that oral health is a foundation for good overall health. It affects employability, education and school attendance, and management of chronic disease. But despite advances in insurance coverage as the result of our state’s decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and to include dental care as a benefit, access to that care has remained out of reach for many.
In King County, only 21 percent of adults on Medicaid and 52 percent of children on Medicaid received dental care in 2016. Statewide, only one in five Medicaid patients received dental care last year because capacity has lagged behind demand. We must make sure those who have insurance have access to a clinic to use that insurance, bridging a critical gap between coverage and care.
We have heard from community health centers about patients who delay seeking care until their oral pain becomes unbearable. That’s why, when community providers look in a new dental patient’s mouth, they expect to see serious problems, including chronic gum and tooth disease that accumulates over years without care. These problems require multiple visits and time-consuming procedures that further strain the system.
More dental chairs and more clinics in underserved urban and rural communities will go a long way in addressing this problem, providing the oral care that’s essential to health and productivity. We ask you to join us in urging leaders throughout our community, our state and the Legislature to make sure this critical funding for oral health stays intact in the final capital budget this year.