The Shape of Things to Come

The Shape of Things to Come

Edward J. Vigna, D.D.S.*:
Welcome to a continuation of our extraordinarily warm winter that seems to have morphed into summer! Wow, what a crazy weather pattern! Thus acknowledging the siren song of summer, I would nevertheless like to share a couple new happenings at the ADA this spring.
 
ADA’s New Consumer Website Launches in June
In June the ADA will launch our new consumer website, www.MouthHealthy.org. Having a site for consumers will be of great value to the public and will be consistent with our strategic  plan goal #2: Be the trusted resource for the public to help them be good stewards of their oral health. The site will provide some great new features, including a Symptom Checker, Find A  Dentist, and information and videos that address health topics at all life stages, from infancy to senior. When consumers click the “Contact Us” link on the site, their inquiries will be sent  to the Member Service Center.
 
To promote the launch of the new site, we have developed a short survey consumers can take to test their oral health knowledge. Survey results will be promoted to the media along with  the launch of MouthHealthy.org. After the launch, the survey will be posted on MouthHealthy.org, so dentists will be able to take the survey, too! 
 
MouthHealthy.org is also expected to be  a good pathway for strengthening our relationships with organizations while building non-dues revenue growth through advertising. As the
launch approaches, you will be hearing much more.
 
Another benefit of launching a consumer website is the opportunity to do a little “housekeeping” in ADA.org, removing all of the consumer content and making it the best professional website possible. The clean-up will make it easier for our members to find what they need to help them succeed, which is our Strategic Goal #1. This goal is where the Board would like to focus staff efforts. 
 
Breaking Down Barriers to Oral Health for All Americans: The Role of Finance
The American Dental Association has published the third in a series of papers that examine the challenges of and solutions to bringing good oral health to millions of Americans who, for multiple reasons, lack access to regular dental care. Breaking Down Barriers to Oral Health for All Americans: The Role of Finance explores how the availability of financing affects people’s  oral health, various methods of paying for care, and recommendations for improving the system. 
 
The paper acknowledges that increased funding alone cannot “fix” a dental financing system rife with inefficiencies and shifting policies and overly tilted toward costly surgical intervention in disease that could have been prevented. It presents eight common sense, attainable recommendations aimed at elimination of unnecessary, costly, preventable dental disease over time.
 
1. The government can use tax policy to encourage small employers and individuals to purchase dental benefit plans in the private sector or develop cooperative purchasing alliances such as the state exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Cost sharing (copayments) should be eliminated for diagnostic, preventive, and direct restorative procedures. Necessary care should not be subject to unreasonably low yearly maximums on coverage. 
 
2. Maximum plan benefit fees should be set in an open and transparent manner, with appropriate scrutiny from attorneys general, insurance commissioners, and providers. 
 
3. Medicaid and CHIP should reimburse for dental care minimally at rates that are acceptable to sufficient numbers of dentists practicing in the covered area to provide care to those  eligible patients who seek it, as consistent with federal law. State programs should base these rates on the ADA Survey of Dental Fees or an equivalent database. 
 
4. Preventive care reduces the disease burden, thereby reducing the need for restorative care, thereby yielding improved health and cost savings. Dental plans should cover 100 percent of  the cost for preventive services.
 
5. State health exchanges should offer reasonably priced dental coverage to adults, especially the vulnerable elderly. 
 
6. States should implement administrative reforms to cut red tape that impedes dentists from delivering care and patients from receiving it. In many cases, this may involve “carving out”  the dental portion of Medicaid and dedicating health department staff exclusively to running the dental portions of their Medicaid and CHIP programs. 
 
7. State Medicaid programs should be broadened gradually to include adults, beginning with coverage for urgent care that otherwise drives them to hospital emergency departments. 
 
8. Federal and state governments should expand programs that provide incentives for dentists to establish practices in underserved areas. Such programs are proven to work, and are  especially attractive to new dental school graduates, who carry an average debt load of $200,000, and who increasingly are interested in loan forgiveness arrangements. 
 
These goals can and must be pursued by expanding, not reinventing, the existing system of care. Increased funding and better use of currently available funds will enable great strides toward breaking down the barriers that continue to impede too many Americans from achieving optimal oral health.
 
Keep In Touch
As always, you may contact me with any ideas, concerns, or comments at vignae@ada.org, or (402) 770-7070 Best wishes for a great summer!
 
 
*Dr. Vigna is the Trustee to the Tenth District of the American Dental Association, representing Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.