Budget cuts mean elimination of dental benefits to thousands of elderly, disabled Kansans

? Cuts in dental benefits for elderly, poor and disabled Kansans have been devastating, social service advocates said Wednesday.

“Not only is there the financial cost, but there is also a human cost when people need dental care but cannot find a dentist that can provide services,” said Connie Hubbell, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved.

The House-Senate Oversight Committee on Home and Community-Based Services was meeting to review the impact of recent budget cuts.

In 2007, the state started funding basic dental care for thousands of Kansans who were elderly or had physical or developmental disabilities and received assistance through programs designed to allow people to continue living in their homes. But those services were eliminated in January because of budget cuts.

Tanya Dorf Brunner, executive director of Oral Health Kansas, and others said that has meant many people either aren’t getting care or are going to more expensive emergency rooms for help.

Brunner told of two cases in Douglas County where women were getting the care they needed before the budget cuts but not anymore. One of the women, who has developmental disabilities, cannot be treated without being sedated, but budget cuts have eliminated that option, she said.

Poor dental care can lead to other health problems, Hubbell said.

She also said that Kansas is experiencing a shortage of dentists. The lack of access to dental care is compounded by the fact that only 25 percent of dentists in Kansas accept Medicaid patients, compared with 80 percent of Kansas doctors, Hubbell said.

Committee Chairman Bob Bethell, R-Alden, said, “Dentists are not a very charitable group.” He said he has talked to dentists about the Medicaid issue. “They (dentists) say a lot of these folks don’t come in for their appointment, and that’s money out of my pocket.”

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said as the daughter of a dentist she had to defend the profession, but added there needed to be a survey done on why so many dentists refuse to treat Medicaid patients.

She said many dentists help the poor and uninsured through volunteer work.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said perhaps the Legislature should consider proposals that would allow dental hygienists to do more procedures as a way to increase access to preventative dental care.