Committee OK’s Walsh bill launching dental program for pregnant women, diabetics

OLYMPIA – A bill launching an adult dental program for diabetic or pregnant Medicaid recipients cleared the Senate Health Care committee Thursday, aimed at expanding coverage of oral health needs for some of the state’s neediest.

Senate Bill 5540, sponsored by Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, would utilize an innovative public-private partnership overseen by the Washington Dental Service Foundation and the state Health Care Authority. The three-year Oral Health Connections pilot project is expected to save the state money after the second year of operation.

“They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and we all know how true that is with dental care,” Walsh said. “This is an important preventative health measure that will help pregnant women and people who have diabetes. Not only is this the right thing to do, this will reduce the state’s costs over the long term, by preventing catastrophic health problems from occurring.”

Although adult Medicaid recipients currently receive dental coverage, low reimbursement rates to private providers have made it difficult for them to access care. Just one in five adults eligible for coverage were able to utilize it in 2015. The three-year pilot program will measure the effect of enhanced reimbursements against the state’s long-term Medicaid costs.

Pregnant women and diabetics are targeted by the pilot project because they are highly susceptible to oral health problems. Dental disease also can cause complications during pregnancy. Studies of commercially insured populations have demonstrated significant long-term savings when diabetic and pregnant patients have received treatment for gum disease.