Maine considers adult dental Medicaid coverage

Maine lawmakers are considering a bill to provide adult dental Medicaid benefits, a proposal designed to reduce dental emergency room costs.

Maine currently does not provide adult dental benefits through MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, although children are covered, according to a story.

As proposed by Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook), if a medical doctor sees obvious signs of severe caries or an abscess, the MaineCare patient can be sent to a dentist rather than having to go to the emergency room.

About 25 states provide some dental coverage for adults on Medicaid. In many states, more than 35% of all ER visits are because of dental problems, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Center on the States.

In 2006, about 8,500 ER visits by MaineCare patients ages 15 to 44 were triggered by dental pain, according to a 2010 study.

The Maine Dental Association supports Gattine's bill.

MaineCare officials testified against the bill at a recent hearing, arguing that it could be expensive, and its costs would be difficult to forecast accurately.

The bill says "preventive" dental care would be covered, although Gattine said that's not the intent of the bill, and he is willing to amend the bill to address concerns it would pay for dental care beyond the bill's intent.

The Legislature is also considering increasing MaineCare reimbursement rates for dentists and a controversial bill that would allow dental therapists to practice there. Dental therapists would be a midlevel provider, similar to a nurse practitioner for doctors.

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