The House version of the budget, released this week, calls for adult NH Medicaid patients to start receiving coverage for dental care.
Children under age 18 who are enrolled in Medicaid already receive dental coverage.
Federal rules give states the option of covering dental care for adults through their Medicaid programs.
The budget allocates $2.5 million to cover this starting around January 2020, giving Medicaid administrators time to develop a more detailed plan for what the dental coverage would look like.
The proposal started its life as a bill proposed this year, HB 692. That bill passed the House and is currently being considered by the Senate. The provisions of the bill were copied into the House budget.
Several other states already cover dental services through their Medicaid programs. The rules for these programs vary, with some imposing a limit on how much they will cover for a given patient in a year and others listing the types of exams and procedures covered.
Supporters argue that covering dental care actually reduces Medicaid costs, because it prevents dental issues from becoming more complicated – and therefore expensive – health issues. Others note that failure to treat dental issues can lead to patients being prescribed opioids to manage their pain, which leads to an increased risk of addiction. Poor dental health can also be an obstacle to finding work.
Opponents counter that the Legislature should wait until a concrete plan for how dental care would be covered has been put forward. Elected officials could then decide about the issue with a clearer sense of what it will cost over the long term. Others argue that there are many non-Medicaid recipients who do not have dental insurance and question the fairness of asking those taxpayers to subsidize coverage for others.