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February 26, 2015                                                                                CONTACT:
Brian McClung, 612-965-2729,
Help MN Smile logo
Coalition launches “Help Minnesota Smile” campaign to improve access to dental care
State currently ranks last in Medicaid payment rate for pediatric dental services; coalition supports bill introduced by Sen. Julie Rosen, launches
Saint Paul — More than a dozen organizations that provide and finance dental care across Minnesota today launched a new campaign to raise awareness of Minnesota’s dental access crisis.  
The “Help Minnesota Smile” campaign will encourage the legislature and Governor to take action this year around the message “It’s Hard to Smile When You’re In Last Place.”
Minnesota currently ranks dead last – 50th of the 50 states – when it comes to the Medicaid (MA) payment rate for pediatric dental services (see Health Policy Institute Research Brief, pp. 7 & 9
Minnesota is also near the bottom – fourth worst – in payment rates for adult dental care services (HPI Research Brief, p. 10). Because of the low payment rate, many dental clinics – especially small and rural clinics – cannot afford to serve MA patients, contributing to Minnesota’s current access crisis where low-income patients with serious dental problems cannot get the treatment they need.
“Right now Minnesota should be too embarrassed to smile. Ranking last in the nation for children’s dental care funding rates and near the bottom for vulnerable adults does not reflect Minnesota values,” said Dr. Peter Cannon, President-Elect of the Minnesota Dental Association. “If we can increase a child’s access to preventative dental care we can decrease emergency room visits and serious dental issues. Increasing funding for dental care access is both the right thing to do and the fiscally smart thing to do.”
The coalition, which includes the Minnesota Dental Association, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, Community Dental Care, Park Dental, Apple Tree Dental, Hennepin County Medical Center, the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, the Safety Net Coalition, Delta Dental of Minnesota, the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition, Minnesota Association of County Health Plans, HealthPartners, Dental Associates of St. Paul and Children’s Dental Services, is supporting bipartisan legislation authored by Senator Julie Rosen in the Senate and Rep. Nick Zerwas in the House.

The Senate bill, Senate File 801, is co-authored by Senator Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), Senator David Brown (R-Becker), Senator Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) and Senator Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville).
The companion bill in the House, House File 1151, includes co-authors Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL-Cottage Grove), Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano), Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), Rep. Roz Peterson (R-Apple Valley), Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), Rep. Glen Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe), Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids) and Rep. JoAnn Ward (DFL-Woodbury).
The bill would increase the state’s funding rates for dental care from the bottom of the pack to the average among the states. Doing so would cost approximately $80-$100 million over the upcoming two-year biennium (FY 16-17). The state’s General Fund spending for FY 16-17 is projected to be $41.2 billion, making the state funding request less than 0.3% of the state budget.
Better access to dental care will mean fewer emergency room visits which will save taxpayers money for uncompensated care. The cost of dental-related visits to hospital emergency rooms in Minnesota has been estimated at $148 million over the past three years.
“Emergency rooms are not the right place to treat dental disease,” said Dr. Mary Seieroe, Chief of Dentistry at Hennepin County Medical Center. “It’s costly and too often the patient leaves with unresolved issues. Increasing state Medicaid payments will help us provide proper care for thousands of Minnesotans who don’t have access to a dentist right now.”
The situation is particularly difficult in Greater Minnesota where two counties currently have no dentist and several have dentist ratios of one dentist per 10,000 residents or one dentist per 5,000 residents.
Dental disease, which is preventable with access to regular dental visits, is the most common chronic illness for children in the United States and is 12 times as prevalent in low-income children as in their better off peers, according to a report from the Surgeon General of the United States.
The “Help Minnesota Smile” campaign launched a website today at with information about the issue. The effort will also be engaging citizens and legislators via radio and online advertising in the coming weeks.
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