MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The Minnesota Dental Association is shocked and dismayed at the proposed $150 million cuts to the already strained Health and Human Services budget. What is most disturbing is that these cuts will affect our state’s most vulnerable citizens, those facing severe physical, mental and financial difficulties.

It is true that this budget has to be curbed. Health and Human Services is the fastest growing and largest part of the state budget. Lawmakers will have to make tough choices as they finalize the budget, but some choices are crystal clear, including fixing the broken public system for dental care.

Recently, the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) audited Minnesota’s Medical Assistance (MA) dental program to understand to what extent MA reimbursement rates impact dentists’ participation in public programs and the subsequent impact on patient access to care. The OLA report concluded that the payment methods were underfunded and poorly coordinated and that the rates for paying dentists were lower in 2012 than in 2000, and lower than rates in most other states.

The report also found, not surprisingly, that low-income individuals face challenges accessing MA dental providers. It went on to report that 24% of dentists responding to their survey indicated they had stopped serving MA patients after across-the-board rate cuts in 2010. I have seen this firsthand. I am a practicing dentist in Lewiston, a town in southern Minnesota, and I serve a multiple county area. I have spent my career working with the underserved population of this area, and previously also had a practice in Winona, but that office doesn’t see public program patients now. The office had to close and all of the employees were laid off due to underfunding. We went from the breaking point to now being broken.

The OLA report’s key recommendation: “The Legislature and the Department of Human Services should better coordinate payment policies and rate setting for Medical Assistance dental services. As part of this effort, the Legislature should increase fee-for-service payment rates for dental providers.”

The current rate of reimbursement for MA dental providers is based on the 1989-1992 rates and has not been increased in 14 years, placing Minnesota 43rd nationally in dental fee reimbursements! This fee structure is woefully inadequate and doesn’t even cover the cost of care. The fiscal reality is that it is impossible for providers to meet the needs of Minnesota’s public program patients under this system. Dentists are concerned about their ability to continue serving existing patients, while also meeting the needs of new enrollees.

Lawmakers need to heed the OLA’s recommendations to provide adequate funding for public dental programs.  Not doing so will only serve to harm even further those in our state who are already facing insurmountable barriers to care. We urge the legislature to ensure adequate funding for dental public programs by strengthening, not cutting, the HHS budget. Now is the time to fix this broken system and help those most in need.

Michael Flynn, DDS President, Minnesota Dental Association
27249 Ruslynn Drive, Winona, MN
Dentist in Lewiston, MN

The Minnesota Dental Association is the voice of dentistry in Minnesota, representing practicing dentists. It is committed to the highest standards of oral health and access to care for all Minnesotans. You can learn more at www.mndental.org.