N.M. Dental Care Praised

Albuquerque Journal– Olivier Uyttebrouck–New Mexico does a better job than most states of providing dental care to low-income kids, despite a shortage of dentists, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. New Mexico does particularly well providing dental care for children enrolled in Medicaid, the report said. Pew found that nearly half — 48 percent — of New Mexico Medicaid-enrolled youths received dental services in 2007, the most recent year for which national data were available. The figure nationwide was 38 percent. Medicaid, the government-funded health insurance program for the poor, covers about 322,000 New Mexico youths 18 and under. But the state faces a major challenge recruiting new dentists, the report found. “New Mexico ranks 49th among states in its numbers of dentists per capita, and, in part because it lacks a dental school, it does not have a robust pipeline for recruiting new dentists,” the report’s authors wrote. The report, “The Cost of Delay,” warns that an estimated 17 million low-income children in the country, or about one in five, receive no dental care. State Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil said New Mexico worked for decades to expand its array of health programs for Medicaid patients, who comprise more than a quarter of the state’s population. In particular, Vigil credited New Mexico’s system of community health centers, which operate 40 dental clinics around the state. “If you took the community health center dental clinics out of the picture, the whole Pew report would have been about the disastrous situation in New Mexico,” Vigil said. The nonprofit centers are federally qualified to receive higher reimbursement rates for treating Medicaid patients, Vigil said. “That’s so they can exist in tiny villages all over the state and also serve low-income communities in urban areas like Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Roswell,” he said. New Mexico is one of six states awarded an “A” by the Pew report because the state performed well on several benchmarks considered measures of good dental care: • Fluoridated water supplies: 77 percent of New Mexicans live in communities with fluoridated water supplies. Nationally, 75 percent have fluoridated water. • Medicaid reimbursement for dental care: New Mexico reimburses dentists for treating Medicaid patients at a rate slightly better than the national average of 60.5 percent of dentists’ usual retail fees. • New Mexico is one of 35 states that pays for preventive dental care for Medicaid patients.

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