Healthcare News & Insights

Dentists less likely to see Medicaid patients in an emergency

A recent study found that even dentists enrolled as providers in the Illinois Medicaid program were less likely to fit in an emergency appointment than they were for a patient with private insurance.

Researchers at University of Pennsylvania had mothers call to get an appointment for a child they claimed had a broken front tooth and needed treatment right away. The only difference in the calls was that in half the cases, the mothers said they were enrolled in Medicaid, and in the other half they said they had private insurance.

The results were startling: Two-thirds of the parents who said they used Medicaid were denied an appointment, while only 5% of those with private insurance were turned away.

Perhaps more disturbing: Even among dentists enrolled in the Medicaid program, 30% couldn’t find an appointment slot for the child — but all of those offices were willing to make an appointment when the parent offered to pay in cash.

Granted, the study used a small sample size and is limited to the Chicago area, but it’s likely that the main issue it raises — the access Medicaid patients have to dentists — is a problem in many areas.

Because of increased paperwork demands and lower reimbursement rates, many dental practices shy away from treating Medicaid patients. But in the end, the highest price is likely paid by the patients. Reduced access to care generally means worse outcomes and more expensive treatments down the road.

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