The Law Center, in partnership with Dechert LLP, submitted a letter to the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry supporting a proposal to expand the settings in which public health dental hygiene practitioners (PHDHP) can provide dental services. The letter was submitted on behalf of Liberty Resources and Vision for Equality, organizations which advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
People with disabilities and people with low incomes often face logistical and financial barriers that prevent them from going to the dentist and for many these barriers mean dental health problems go untreated. The PA Department of Human Services estimated that 33% of low income children have untreated tooth decay. Allowing PHDHPs to practice in a wider variety of circumstances, such as home visits, would allow a greater number of Pennsylvanians to receive dental care services.
In addition to the changes to of PHDHP regulations already being considered by the Board of Dentistry, we propose that the Department of Human Services allow PHDHPs to bill as medical assistance providers. Using Medicaid to fund dental services provided by PHDHPs would allow for vastly more children and people with disabilities to receive essential dental care.
The majority of children enrolled in Medicaid in Pennsylvania do not have access to dental healthcare; though all children on Medicaid are eligible for dental benefits, only 41% of children enrolled in Medicaid in Pennsylvania actually receive dental care, leaving almost 800,000 children in Pennsylvania without access to a dentist. Dentists in rural areas often do not accept Medicaid, meaning low-income people in rural areas are especially underserved. The inequality between the levels of dental care access of children receiving Medicaid and children receiving private insurance in Pennsylvania is the 7th largest of any state, according to the American Dental Association. Allowing PHDHPs to bill as medical assistance providers, which is done in states such as Oregon and Connecticut, would mitigate this issue.