(The Center Square) – Maine is expanding dental coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income patients under a new $45 million oral health program.
The $45 million expansion plan adds preventive, diagnostic and restorative dental care to the services covered by the state Medicaid program, MaineCare, for members 21 years of age and over. The Mills administration said the move will ultimately benefit more than 200,000 residents who get insurance through the program.
“Dental health is an important part of overall health,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. “Providing preventive and routine dental care will not only improve the health and wellness of hundreds of thousands of Maine people, but it will also save money in the long run by preventing the need for expensive emergency care.”
The new benefits, which go into effect on July 1, will cover a comprehensive array of dental services, from cleanings and fillings to root canals, dentures, and other critical oral health services.
As part of the expansion of coverage, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services will also be increasing reimbursement rates for dental providers.
The expansion plan stems from legislation sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, who said the lack of access to routine dental care has often resulted in painful dental conditions that could otherwise be avoided.
“Our previous system had forced people to use the emergency room when their teeth reached the point of no return, which was costing folks their dignity and health,” he said. “The stories I heard were simply heartbreaking.”
The Maine Dental Association issued a statement welcoming the expansion of MaineCare coverage for adults but warning that there will be “logistical challenges” for patients and providers in coming weeks and months, “as dental offices, like many health care offices and facilities across the state, continue to experience staffing shortages as a result of the pandemic.”
Maine is one of a handful of states that doesn’t provide preventative dental care for Medicaid recipients. Currently, the MaineCare program only provides emergency dental services for adults.
At least 33 states and the District of Columbia offer more comprehensive dental coverage in their state-run programs than Maine, according to the American Dental Association.