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Adult Medicaid Dental Benefit Left Out Of N.H. State Budget, Emergency Coverage Remains

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NHPR
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Lawmakers voted today on the state’s budget, which is now heading to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. But the adult dental benefit insured through Medicaid didn’t make it into the bill. 

For adults on Medicaid, most plans currently cover emergency services only. Care like cleanings, dentures, or restorative care is excluded.  

In 2019, Gov. Sununu signed a law which created a working group to plan a more expansive dental benefit, but it remains unfunded.

Dr. Sarah Finne, Medicaid Dental Director for the Department of Health and Human Services, says there’s “a lot of agreement that this is very much needed.”

“Where we sort of go off the rails is how we are going to pay for it and how much it costs,” she says.  

There has been confusion around the price of the benefit, which pulls from different funding sources. The federal government would pay for most of the cost. 

Finne says by keeping people healthier means more money saved. While the department was able to calculate some of the savings, like reduced cost to Medicaid from emergency trip visits, Finne says that most of the savings and economic benefits are hard to pin down. 

“How much money are we going to save for a patient who has diabetes that becomes better controlled because they have better oral health? That's kind of a nebulous number,” Finne says. 

Better oral health can also lead to increased employability, another benefit for both Granite Staters and the economy that can be hard to pinpoint. 

Advocates for the expansive benefit were disappointed the funding was put on hold, but find optimism in how the conversation around oral health is shifting across the state. 

“We're very enthused by the fact that now, probably more than ever, people are talking about oral health as part of overall health,” says Mike Auerbach, executive director of the New Hampshire Dental Society.

The headline has been updated to better reflect the story. 

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