The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) announced last week a redesign of what is called “State Operated Services” or SOS programs. Under this redesign, all five SOS dental clinics will be closed. In particular, the SOS dental clinics in Fergus Falls, Willmar, and Cambridge will close May 1. The remaining two clinics in Faribault and Brainerd will be closed over a 15 month period of time. Closing the first three clinics will save DHS $1.4 million dollars and eliminate 23 SOS dental clinic jobs. Similar additional cuts would be imposed by DHS when the other two clinics are closed. DHS says its plan is to “transition” patients into the community with existing providers and perhaps try to establish an FQHC model of clinic for these patients.
The closure of these clinics will create a huge problem with access to care for many of the state’s most vulnerable patients, especially in Greater Minnesota. The SOS dental clinics serve individuals with some of the most severe disabilities who cannot get dental care elsewhere. Individuals served are the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, and those who are seriously medically compromised. Patients in need come from all around the state to receive care at these five dental clinics.
The MDA alerted the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division Chairperson Linda Berglin (DFL-Minneapolis) of the looming cuts at a Senate hearing on Tuesday. Committee members were quite concerned and alarmed about the elimination of the SOS dental clinics. The MDA will aggressively work with the legislature to try to avert (waylay) DHS’ plans for these dental clinics.
The MDA’s non-covered services bill has passed two committees and is on the floor of the House waiting to be voted upon (see the March MDA News). However, sledding has been much tougher in the Senate.
At Tuesday’s Senate hearing, an amendment similar to that offered on the House side was offered but it expanded the legislation to apply not just to Delta Dental and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota but also to Health Partners and Medica. Dental third-party payers not based in Minnesota were exempted from the legislation by the amendment. At issue is the fairness of capping fees on services that are not covered vs. the perceived benefit a patient receives from capped fees. Some committee members looked at it as a consumer issue, rather than a fairness issue, and actually preferred that dentists have their fees capped. Committee members failed to accept the fact that the costs of a dental office will be the same; therefore, non-insured patients, including senior citizens, will pay more in order for the non-covered services of the insured to remain capped.
After much discussion, the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee voted the bill down on a 4-5 vote. Voting to prohibit the capping of fees on non-covered services were Senators Linda Scheid (DFL—Brooklyn Park), who is chair of the committee; Dan Skogen (DFL—Hewitt), who is author of S.F. 2612; Jim Metzen (DFL—South St. Paul); and Dan Sparks (DFL—Austin). Voting against the MDA bill were Senators Chris Gerlach (R—Apple Valley), Debbie Johnson (R—Ham Lake), John Marty (DFL—Roseville), Mary Olson (DFL—Bemidji), and Ray Vandeveer (R—Forest Lake). The MDA will continue to seek passage of the legislation this year.