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Virginia legislature has opportunity to improve birth outcomes, save money

February 26, 2014

The Virginia General Assembly is currently deciding whether or not to provide comprehensive dental benefits to pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid and FAMIS MOMS.  Research has shown that dental care during pregnancy can improve periodontal disease, which is associated with poor health outcomes.

Studies suggest that women at high-risk for preterm birth benefit from dental services that treat periodontal disease and dental infections.,  Based on estimates, the cost of providing a comprehensive dental benefit to ALL pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid is less than 10% of the cost to treat just the preterm babies born to mothers with periodontal disease.,,, In fact, it would only take a 2.5% reduction in all preterm births for the dental benefit to pay for itself.

The Virginia Oral Health Coalition (VaOHC), an alliance of over 100 individual and organizational partners striving to integrate oral health into all aspects of health care, strongly encourages dental benefits be provided for all pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid.  Dental benefits will enable these women to manage their oral health-including their periodontal disease.

“Oral health is one of the most lacking areas of maternal care for indigent women.  The General Assembly can reduce the direct costs of the consequences of poor oral health and dental neglect by approving the funding under Medicaid for pregnant women,” said Tegwyn Brickhouse, DDS, PhD, immediate past-chair of VaOHC and chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at VCU. “It’s an easy decision when you compare the cost of a dental visit with the devastating health and societal consequences that are associated with the mother’s poor oral health.”

Members of the Senate agree, as the Senate Finance Committee recently included comprehensive dental benefits for pregnant women in its budget (the budget adopted by the House of Delegates does not include this benefit).  The decision of whether to provide pregnant women with comprehensive dental coverage now rests with the conference committee – a select group of Senators and Delegates directed to hash out a compromise between the House and Senate spending plans.

VaOHC is not alone in supporting this legislation; the organization is joined by a solid list of partners, including the Virginia Dental Association, the Medical Society of Virginia, the Virginia Section of the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the Virginia Dental Hygienists’ Association, March of Dimes, Virginia Affiliate of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, and the American Academy of Pediatrics – Virginia Chapter.

Many low-income pregnant women do not have the financial means to access oral health care.  Accessing dental services through the Medicaid program will significantly impact the lives of pregnant mothers and their babies, and allow them a healthier future.

For more information about this issue, contact Sarah Bedard Holland at sholland@vaoralhealth.org or visit the Coalition’s website at www.vaoralhealth.org.  

From a press release.