Report: Lack of preventive dental coverage costs Fla. big

A report by the Florida Public Health Institute has revealed that in 2010 there were 115,000 visits to the emergency room (ER) for dental conditions that were preventable at a cost of $88 million, Health News Florida reported.

Of these visits, a third were charged to Florida's Medicaid for a total of $30 million. The report questioned whether $30 million in preventive care may have been able to prevent the ER visits.

However, only 8% of Florida dentists accept Medicaid, according to the institute. And a high number of visits took place during normal business hours, when most dental practices are open, suggesting that many patients opt for ER treatment over a dentist's office.

One of the report's goals was to examine the contributing factors to dental ER visits. The institute came to several conclusions:

  • Medicare and Florida Medicaid's failure to pay for preventive care leads to dental care neglect by adults until infection or pain is so severe that they must visit the ER.
  • Medicaid coverage for preventive and restorative treatment for children is too low; as a result, several counties in Florida are without a single dentist who accepts Medicaid.
  • Low-income Floridians who are above the earnings threshold for Medicaid skip dental care to avoid out-of-pocket treatment costs, insurance premiums, or co-pays, or transportation costs.
  • Public health clinics and the like are not authorized to bill Medicaid for some preventive services performed by hygienists without the direct supervision of a dentist.
  • Budget cuts to county health departments have limited the creation or expansion of dental clinics to meet demand.

The institute compiled the report on behalf of Oral Health Florida, which is made up of dentists, hygienists, and other public health advocates, the article noted.

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