Snyder wants to add dental access for poor
Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder wants to expand access to taxpayer-funded dental programs to more than 875,000 low-income adults and children.
He'll propose it in the budget plan he'll present Wednesday to lawmakers.
Snyder administration officials told The Detroit News that the governor wants to add 275,000 children up to age 8 in Wayne, Oakland and Kent counties to the Healthy Kids Dental program, which already is available to 544,537 children on the Medicaid health program for low-income residents in the state's other 80 counties.
The Republican governor also wants to provide access to dental care for up to 613,000 low-income adults in Michigan by boosting health care provider payments to get more dentists to accept Medicaid recipients, spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.
"This has been a significant priority of the governor's since Day One," Nick Lyon, director of the Department of Community Health, told The News on Tuesday. "This will give us coverage of every kid in the state, up to 8 years of age."
Snyder's push to expand the programs comes as he'll make targeted cuts elsewhere to make up for $532 million less revenue than anticipated for the 2016 fiscal year budget.
"For the final expansion of (Healthy Kids Dental) during a really tight budget year speaks volumes to his support for it," said Lu Battaglieri, senior vice president of Delta Dental, which administers the program.
The governor's proposed expansion of Healthy Kids Dental into Kent, Oakland and Wayne counties will be incremental, covering just under half of the 500,000 children and young adults up to age 21 who are eligible for Medicaid coverage, Battaglieri said.
Healthy Kids Dental, a program started under former Gov. John Engler, has been gradually expanded during the past 15 years, with nearly 100,000 children in Macomb and Kalamazoo counties added in last year's budget. But three of the most populous counties in the state were the last areas not covered by the program.
Children enrolled in the Medicaid health insurance program whose family income is under 150 percent of the poverty level — or $30,135 for a family of three — are automatically enrolled in Healthy Kids Dental, which pays for all routine dental care, Battaglieri said.
Expanding Healthy Kids Dental will cost $21.8 million, with two-thirds of the cost borne by the federal government through matching funding, Wurfel said. The cost to the state will be about $7 million, she said.
"We know how much impact it has on their health and wellness and how it ties into their success at school and their quality of life," Wurfel said.
The expanded access to dental care for adults will cost $23 million, with $7.9 million of it coming from the state's general fund, she said.
Martin J. Makowski, a pediatric dentist in Clinton Township and president of the Michigan Dental Association, praised Snyder's funding proposal for the two programs.
"Oral health is intrinsic to overall health, and the decision to focus the program on increasing dentist participation should have a significant positive effect on the provision of care to this underserved population," Makowski said in a statement.
Studies have shown children in Healthy Kids Dental get dental care more often than children who are not in the program, Battaglieri said.
Snyder's spending plan may not be as well received by hospitals and other medical providers that accept Medicaid patients for health care.
Snyder will propose shifting $63.5 million in subsidies for graduate medical education from the general fund to a provider tax that hospitals pay to draw down Medicaid payments, Wurfel said.
The governor also will recommend the Legislature shift another $13.6 million in special Medicaid payments to rural hospitals to the provider tax, she said.
The change will result in the state collecting more taxes from hospitals to help pay for the education of their physician residents, Lyon said.
"We're going through some pretty serious reductions, and this is our way of really being able to protect the total funding that's in place for graduate medical education," he said.
But Lyon said the added cost to hospitals should be made up by the tens of thousands of additional patients they've gained through the expansion of Medicaid insurance for low-income adults.
As of Monday, 546,807 residents had enrolled in the Healthy Michigan plan since it was launched 10 months ago, exceeding the original estimate of 470,000 people after two years.
"They have a significant amount of money coming their way because of the Healthy Michigan plan," Lyon said. "We believe that the increased payments that weren't expected from the Healthy Michigan plan certainly offsets the amount of reductions here."
Under the change, the hospitals will finance the federal matching funds that go back into their systems, instead of the state's general fund and taxpayers, Wurfel said.
Snyder also will announce plans Wednesday to address an immediate $325 million deficit in the current fiscal year budget.