Medicaid coverage tied to better oral health, job prospects

2020 09 17 16 38 0936 Insurance Coverage 400

People who enrolled in dental coverage via a Medicaid expansion program reported having healthier mouths in a new study published on March 22 in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry. Improved oral health also helped them excel at work or seek new jobs, they reported.

The investigators hope the findings will inform policy decisions about dental coverage for Medicaid plans throughout the U.S., especially when more people are enrolling in the program to weather the economic storm fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Policymakers should consider the importance of Medicaid dental coverage in reducing oral health disparities and improving the health and socioeconomic well‐being of low‐income adults and communities when considering this optional benefit," wrote the group, led by Edie Kieffer, PhD, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Kieffer and colleagues used a survey and interviews to assess how Michigan's Medicaid expansion program affected the health and lives of 4,090 recipients. The Healthy Michigan Plan covers recipients for basic dental care, including cleanings, x-rays, and dentures, and has a current enrollment of approximately 895,000 people.

Among those surveyed, 60% had visited a dentist at least once since enrolling in the Healthy Michigan Plan within the past two years. Additionally, 57% of those who saw a dentist during that time frame reported having better oral health since enrolling.

Of those who had jobs and reported improved oral health, 76% said the coverage helped them perform better at work, compared with 65% of those who were employed but did not report improved dental health. Meanwhile, unemployed enrollees who cited better oral health were more likely to report improved job seeking due to their coverage, at 60% versus 51%, the authors wrote.

"We can clearly see the positive impact of Medicaid coverage of dental care," stated Dr. John Ayanian, the inaugural director of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI) at the University of Michigan, in a university release. "These findings have implications for states that have yet to expand Medicaid at all, or to include dental coverage in their Medicaid expansion programs."

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