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Permanent link  Dental health care disparities often overlooked, reports Wisconsin newspaper

05/15/2009

The first of a two-part series on the lack of access to dental care among Wisconsin residents was published this week in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

The vicious cycle of low reimbursement for Medicaid services and thus low dentist participation in those programs may not be news to anyone in the dental community, but Wisconsin presents some unique challenges because of the state-funded BadgerCare plan, which fewer dentists accept than even Medicaid. From the article:

In southeast Wisconsin, the private companies that contract with the state to manage the care for children and parents covered by BadgerCare Plus contract with Southeast Dental Associates S.C. to provide dental care.

Southeast Dental Associates has a network of 108 dentists, including specialists such as oral surgeons, in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine and Kenosha counties. That doesn't include hygienists or students at Marquette University's School of Dentistry.

Many, if not most, dentists in the network, though, limit the number of patients they see because of what Southeast Dental Associates pays.

"We do what we can and still stay in business," said Michael Costello of Downtown Dental Group.

Costello, a dentist, and his staff treat 20 BadgerCare Plus patients a week, setting aside an hour each Tuesday and Thursday. The slots are limited to children.

"They need the care," he said. "They need the help."

The appointments are scheduled starting at 9 a.m. each Monday. The phone rings steadily for at least an hour on most weeks, with two people fielding the calls and someone always on hold.

"I can't help everybody," Costello said, "so I'm doing what I can."

His system for scheduling limits the number of missed appointments - a persistent problem for dentists who see patients covered by BadgerCare Plus or Medicaid. Booking patients months in advance increases the chances of a patient not showing up for an appointment.

Costello estimates that what Southeast Dental Associates pays covers the practice's costs if he doesn't include his time.
Hat tip: Association for Health Care Journalists blog.

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