Access to dental care declining in Colorado

Posted by Health Policy Solutions

By Diane Carman

The crisis in access to dental health care in Colorado is growing more severe even as the effort by the state Department of Health and Environment this year continues to highlight improved oral care as one of its 10 “winnable battles.”

A new analysis released Monday by The Colorado Trust found that the number of Coloradans without dental insurance grew 17 percent between 2009 and 2011, and that even people with dental insurance failed to receive care due to cost or a lack of available dental providers.

“Coloradans need to speak up for the care they need to stay healthy, including oral health,” said Ned Calonge, MD, who is president and CEO of The Colorado Trust, which funds the biannual surveys.

The Colorado Health Access Survey reported that 2.1 million Coloradans lacked dental insurance in 2011, and that nearly one in four residents said they didn’t receive dental care they needed because of the cost. Of those who could not afford dental care, 36.6 percent had dental insurance.

A majority of Hispanic Coloradans – 52.8 percent – said they don’t have dental insurance. Among white residents, 39.1 percent lack dental coverage, while 29.9 percent of black Coloradans lack the insurance.

The survey also cited provider shortages as a significant barrier to accessing care, particularly in rural Colorado. Twenty-two counties across the state have been designated as shortage areas for dental health professionals.

In both rural and urban areas, the Colorado Health Access Survey found that insufficient numbers of dental providers participate in the Medicaid program, so despite an increase in the number of children who had dental insurance, fewer actually visited dental providers. An additional 66,300 children had dental insurance in 2011 compared to 2009.

Of all age groups, Coloradans over 65 were most likely to lack dental insurance because basic Medicare does not cover dental care.

“Oral health care should not be considered optional or a luxury,” said Calonge. “Going without basic dental care often leads to oral disease with unnecessary pain, more invasive care and higher costs, and can result in even bigger health problems.”

The report offered suggestions for addressing the problem through increased access to dental insurance, more comprehensive benefit packages for insurance to reduce the cost of needed dental care, and expansion of the dental health workforce.

The 2011 Colorado Health Access Survey conducted telephone interviews with a random, representative sample of more than 10,000 households. Data collection and analysis was conducted by the Colorado Health Institute.

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