The Connecticut State Dental Association outlined its legislative agenda Wednesday and offered its support for the dental provisions within the SustiNet bill, but stopped short of endorsing the program as a whole.
The group said it was grateful that dental was a part of SustiNet and credited House Speaker Chris Donovan’s leadership for its inclusion. But CSDA Communications Manager Randi Sussman said the endorsement was specific to the provisions concerning dental coverage and the Dental Association hadn’t taken a stance on the rest of the proposal.
The group’s lack of a position on the measure is another indicator that the program, considered Connecticut’s best hope at a public health care option, stands on increasingly precarious political footing.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who appeared at a rally for SustiNet in December, seems to have cooled on the program in recent weeks. When Malloy released his proposed budget on Feb. 16, SustiNet was not included. And his Budget Director Ben Barnes recently signaled that the timetable in the bill was too aggressive.
Nonetheless, Donovan thanked the Dental Association for participating in SustiNet, which he called a smart and affordable way of providing health care in Connecticut.
He also credited Dr. Jonathan Knapp, co-chair of the CSDA’s legislative council, with bringing to his attention the realities of former-Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s plan to cut funding for all non-emergency dental services for adults on Medicaid. That measure would have resulted in the dental plans for adults on Medicaid amounting to only antibiotics and pain killers during emergencies, Donovan said.
The legislature’s Democratic majority successfully rejected that proposal last year.
“We knew we had a fight in terms of providing dental care for others in the Medicaid area and we’re happy to see that Gov. Malloy has included that in the budget so that makes less of a fight,” he said.
But Malloy’s budget proposal also recommends cutting the funding of non-emergency dental services for adults by around $20 million over two years.
Despite the cuts, Knapp said it could be worse.
“I think given the budget circumstances and the financial times that we find ourselves in, the fact that it was able to be maintained is great,” he said, adding, “I think as times improve and things get better we’d certainly like to have them brought back to where they were and in fact even enhanced beyond that.”
But Knapp said he recognized the risk of non-emergency dental care for adults on Medicaid being eliminated from the budget entirely and said the group was very pleased it remains. It’s important that the oral health of adults is addressed as well that of children, he said.
“What happens with the adults trickles down to the kids, certainly,” he said.
Knapp said the CSDA is also pushing for legislators to approve $85,000 to pay for an in-state coordinator for Donated Dental Services. That national program already provides pro bono dental care for individuals in need but funding a coordinator within Connecticut would substantially increase the scope of its investment in the state, he said.
“For a nominal investment for an administrator local to the state of Connecticut we’ve been guaranteed by the National Foundation for Dental Outreach a return of three to one. That’s a three to one investment at minimum,” he said.
The organization estimates that up to 100 individuals in the state would benefit from $225,000 in dental care within the first year. Three years down the line that is expected to increase to at least $450,000 of care for up to 175 people, according to a prepared CSDA statement.
Knapp gave an example of a recent case involving someone who needed a kidney transplant but was unable to receive one until he had dental work done.
“Well Donated Dental Services got that person the dental care that he needed so he could have his kidney transplant done,” he said.