A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

United Voices Fight for Healthy Mouths:

United Voices Fight for Healthy Mouths:

January 18, 2011

Advocates from Across the State Gather to Protest Dental Cuts

Braving icy sidewalks and waist-high mountains of snow, supporters turned out in force to the Rally to Restore MassHealth Adult Dental last Thursday. Co-hosted by the Legislative Oral Health Caucus and the Oral Health Advocacy Taskforce, advocates held a press conference to announce legislation to restore MassHealth Adult Dental benefits. Speakers included Speakers included Russet Morrow, Chair of the Oral Health Advocacy Taskforce, Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester) and Representative John Scibak (D- South Hadley), Co-Chairs of the Massachusetts Legislative Oral Health Caucus, and Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Executive Director of Health Care For All. “Due to recent cuts in the state budget, approximately 700,000 adults on MassHealth, many of whom are low income seniors, disabled individuals, and people with chronic diseases such as HIV will be impacted,” Morrow explained. “These cuts will cause pain and suffering and eliminate coverage for fillings, treatment of gum disease, and the dentures that many of our vulnerable elders need to eat. Left untreated, dental decay can spread throughout the body, causing serious health issues. These cuts to dental benefits are drastic and would leave extraction as the only course of treatment for cavities or oral infections.” Morrow also shared several stories of MassHealth consumers struggling with the impact of the cuts, including that of Shirley Royster, longtime HIV advocate and MassHealth member. “I need dental care to stay healthy, eat well, and take my medication,” Royster explained. “Without adequate dental coverage, I am trapped in this situation: I can either pay to have my teeth fixed out of my own pocket with money I don’t have, or have them extracted. I bought this apple, but I am in too much pain to eat it. It’s impossible to eat well and stay healthy this way.” According to Senator Chandler, Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Legislative Oral Health Caucus, “this means that for anyone with a small oral health issue, the only solution is to extract the tooth or risk infection spreading through the rest of the body. This is akin to amputating a hand because or a broken wrist, instead of actually fixing the problem.” “It is essential that we reinstate dental benefits in MassHealth,” affirms Representative John Scibak, Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Legislative Oral Health Caucus, “Massachusetts has a long legacy of innovation and leadership in protecting the health of all our residents. Dental services were determined fundamental during the passage of Chapter 58. We have moved backwards by eliminating access to this vital care- we must stay at the forefront of health reform and reinstate these benefits as soon as possible.” There is also a strong financial argument for protecting these benefits. As Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Executive Director of Health Care For All explained, “Although the Committee estimates that $56 million in services will be eliminated, we are saving only $11 million at most. Massachusetts will actually lose approximately $35 million in federal funds and will suffer additional costs because people will be forced into emergency rooms with preventable illnesses due to dental pain and infections.” - Christine Keeves