From WILL - News Headlines -

Dental Groups Blast Proposed Cuts to Medicaid

If Illinois lawmakers approve Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to reduce Medicaid services to close a $2.7 billion hole, then dental care in the state would also take a hit.

Quinn's Medicaid plan includes eliminating the adult dental care program to save $51.4 million annually. There are about 172,000 adults receiving Medicaid-funded dental services each year in Illinois.

Dionne Haney with the Illinois State Dental Society said cutting dental care under the Medicaid program would be a mistake, leaving many people with dental emergencies turning to hospital emergency rooms for care.

"At that point, those physicians on staff are not able to actually treat the condition, but would potentially prescribing medications for the pain and the infection that that potential dental emergency is taking, and not looking at the long-term effects of the patients care," Haney said.

According to the Illinois State Dental Society, the state ranks 48th in the country for its Medicaid funding rates. Haney worries Illinois' ranking could worsen if the cuts go through.

"Any further cuts would drive dentists having trouble making ends meet to see these patients because the reimbursement rate is so slow," she said. "It may have some dentists opting out of the program."

Nancy Greenwalt is the executive director of Smile Healthy, a nonprofit group in Champaign that provides dental care to underserved families. Smile Healthy coordinates the Frances Nelson Dental Center, which provides care to Medicaid patients.

Since opening in November, Greenwalt said the Frances Nelson Dental Center has had about 1,200 patients, about half of which are on Medicaid. Greenwalt said cutting the adult dental care program would be a mistake.

"There's just thousands and thousands of people out there who need dental care," she said. "You know, low-income, uninsured adults, adults on Medicaid who don't know where to go. We need access to more care."

Gov. Quinn has said that the cuts are needed to help prevent the entire Medicaid system from collapsing. He has also said if something isn't done to rein in Medicaid spending, then those costs will squeeze spending in other areas, like education and public safety.