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How A State Legislature, The Federal Government And A Dental School Work Together To Provide Care

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Recall that during the great recession of 2008, adult dental care under Medicaid was terminated in Utah. Only pregnant women continued to receive dental benefits under Medicaid in the state. As a result of the 2008 financial crisis and its impact on the state's budget, nonpregnant adults receive limited emergency dental benefits under Medicaid. Since 2008, several unsuccessful attempts have been made to restore dental care under Medicaid to as many adults as possible in Utah.

However, in 2017, the tide changed. During the 2017 Utah regular legislative session, the University of Utah School of Dentistry, working with Utah Legislators and the Utah Medicaid Office, was able to shepherd SB 274 through the state legislative process. The bill unanimously passed in the State Legislature and was signed into law by the governor. This new law amends the Medicaid waiver for the delivery of adult dental services to people in Utah who are blind or have disabilities, and in a very unique way it allows the University of Utah School of Dentistry to play a critical role in the SB 274 implementation.

Specifically, SB 274 has enabled the dental school to partner with the University of Utah public hospital system to provide care to people who are blind or have disabilities at multiple off-site ambulatory care centers that include both dental clinics and operatories. Under the 1115 demonstration waiver amendment the state submitted, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved, the dental school receives supplemental Medicaid payment as part of the hospital's primary care services. In addition, the dental school receives incentive payments when it cares for more than 100 patients on Medicaid a year. These Medicaid supplement programs make it fiscally possible for the University of Utah School of Dentistry to provide the highest quality of dental care possible to these adult patients.

"The University of Utah School of Dentistry is extremely pleased to be a part of this groundbreaking program to provide dental services to underserved Medicaid adult patients. Our faculty, staff and students consider it an honor to help care for the disabled and blind who are the recipients of these much needed oral health services," said Wyatt R. Hume, D.D.S., Ph.D., Dean of the University of Utah School of Dentistry.

Many in this vulnerable population have not seen a dentist since adult dental benefits under Medicaid were terminated in 2008. The dental students participating receive special training on how to work with this special population and have become very comfortable providing care. Since this innovative program began in July 2017, the dental school clinics have seen more than 2,000 patients. According to the dental school, there are about 35,000 adults who are blind or have disabilities on Medicaid in the state. The dental school hopes to provide care to about 5,000 to 10,000 in this underserved population in 2018 and beyond.

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