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Local Dentists Frustrated Over Idaho-Smiles Cuts

Cuts to Idaho-Smiles have left many frowning.

The contracting company which administers the Medicaid-funded dental care program recently decided to eliminate nearly 200 providers in the state.

“I’m too giving? Is that the problem?” questioned Dr. Justin Bell.

As a dentist at Idaho Falls’ Foothills Dental Care, Bell said he’s frustrated.

“We’ve gone from a society where, as a doctor I can choose to work for less and see state Medicaid patients … that’s changed to a company from Wisconsin called DentaQuest deciding who your doctor will be. That’s the problem. I can’t even do it if I want to,” said Bell.

DentaQuest was recently re-awarded a contract to administer the state’s dental care program for Idaho-Smiles, meaning they deal with claims and choose which dentists can provide services to Medicaid patients. Tom Shanahan, the public information officer for Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare, said DentaQuest is looking to eliminate nearly 200 of the 600 current providers.

“The contractor does get to pick the provider network and not all dentists currently in the provider network are going to be in the new network because they are looking for the most value they can get,” said Shanahan.

“We will probably have to lay off staff members. We’ll probably see a dramatic decrease in revenue. I know a lot of dental practices will probably go bankrupt,” said Bell.

And in less than 30 days, Medicaid patients whose providers have been eliminated will have to find new dental care.

Bell said some might remember the days when they had to look up and down the yellow page listings and then be denied repeatedly by dental offices that didn’t accept Medicaid.

“With a decrease in the access to dentistry, people could have gotten an appointment with me. But they can’t and if you have a dental abscess and can’t be seen, you’re going to end up in the emergency room,” said Bell.

But Shanahan said his department will ensure the state standards are met when it comes to healthcare. Patients are required to get a check up within 45 days of calling for an appointment, and be seen for an emergency within 24 hours.

“At the same time we’ll be monitoring the contracts to make sure people have access, they have good care, and if that doesn’t happen we’ll be working with the contractor to make sure contract terms are met,” said Shanahan.

The other medicaid dental care distributor for the state is Molina. Their patients will not be affected by the cuts.

DentaQuest commented in an e-mailed statement Monday: “It is simply too early to be specific about the ultimate size of our dental network, but there clearly are economies of scale that are possible while maintaining access to high quality dental care. Idahoans on Medicaid can be assured that should they need dental care, it will be available, convenient, and of high quality.”

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