Healthcare Debate: Dental Care Lacking for Millions

Publication: Philadelphia Inquirer

Author: Brooke Minters

07/26/2010 - It began with a toothache. Tori Pence, 23, could feel the hole that had suddenly developed on her tooth, and she couldn't stand either hot or cold food. The bespectacled girl with electric-blue hair had worked a string of odd jobs and hadn't seen a dentist for at least five years.

When she finally got in to see one, she needed a root canal. And fillings for 15 cavities.

"Dentally speaking, I am healthy now," says Pence, who lives in Lansdowne and has been making monthly visits to the University of Pennsylvania's dental clinic for almost a year. "But I still have seven more [cavities] to go."

Pence is one of the estimated 132 million people in the United States without any sort of dental insurance. It's an endemic problem among the unemployed, the poorly paid, and those without medical insurance.

While the national health-care act passed in spring will increase the number of people eligible for medical insurance, its effects on dental will be mixed.

The law increases coverage for children, and will eventually cover more adults under Medicaid, the joint state-federal health plan for the poor. But adult dental services are often hard to find: Less than one-third of dentists in Pennsylvania and New Jersey participate in Medicaid.


Pennsylvania has some of the lowest reimbursement rates in the country, according to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States. Pennsylvania's Medicaid program reimbursed dentists 53 percent of what they customarily charge. The national average for Medicaid is 60.5 percent.

New Jersey had among the nation's lowest reimbursement rates until recently, but now pays 103 percent of the customary fee, according to the Pew Center, which nevertheless gave the state an F on its dental report card due to other limitations of coverage for the poor. (Pennsylvania also got an F.)

Read the full article, Healthcare Debate: Dental Care Lacking for Millions on the Philadelphia Inquirer's Web site.

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