Flint, MI—The state of Michigan has recently expanded dental benefits for Medicaid beneficiaries, and Flint officials welcome the move for residents in the city and Genesee County. 

On April 3, 2023, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced that Medicaid beneficiaries are seeing new services added to their coverage beginning this month, alongside increased rates of reimbursement for dental providers. 

Tim McCarron, lead outreach and enrollment coordinator at Hamilton Community Health Network, said the changes in Medicaid coverage will improve access to more comprehensive dental care services for Genesee County residents, updates that have been a long time coming. 

“That’s kind of a game changer because a lot of people, especially in this area, have pretty major dental needs,” McCarron said. “Unfortunately, before this, they were just kind of getting by or sort of ignoring those issues because it’s so expensive to try to pay out of pocket.” 

The new services covered by Medicaid include deep teeth cleanings, sealants, root canals, crowns and periodontal treatment. The expansion of coverage is critical, given that oral health affects people’s overall health and wellbeing, McCarron explained. 

“It leads to so many other health issues and I feel like a lot of people don’t really realize that,” he said. 

The state’s 2023 budget includes $30 million to redesign Medicaid-funded dental services for adults and $85.1 million for increased reimbursement for dental providers. The boost in reimbursement rates took place earlier this year on Jan. 1, according to an MDHHS press release on April 3.

Prior to these changes, Chelsea Wuth, an MDHHS spokesperson, said there were major disparities in access to dental care among the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries, gaps that had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The dental benefit was fragmented, reimbursement rates for much of the adult population had been largely unchanged for nearly three decades, and provider participation was low as a result,” Wuth said in a statement. 

In particular, dental providers would actually actually lose money given the low reimbursement with dental care of enrollees in Medicaid’s fee-for-service, paid services that are not provided through a health plan, according to James Milanowski, the president and CEO of the Genesee Health Plan. 

“The state was reimbursing dental services for this Medicaid fee-for-service population at such a low, low rate that no dentists really wanted to see these folks,” he said. “It was below their cost of the reimbursement.”

So, Milanowski, who is also Michigan Oral Health Coalition’s president elect, said the increase in reimbursement is “a great win” for both beneficiaries of Medicaid’s fee-for-service and the dental community, something that the coalition has long been advocating for.

“Now, I think more dentists will be able to see these individuals and that will help that population immensely,” he said. “It’s very important, because oral health has always been neglected by a lot of people.”

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...