In the 2009 fiscal year state budget, the Maryland General Assembly included millions of dollars in funding for initiatives that will expand dental care to more children enrolled in Medicaid, the Washington Post reports.
In what is planned to be the first of three annual installments, lawmakers approved $7 million in new funds -- to be matched by $7 million in federal funding -- to increase Medicaid payments to dentists. The increases are intended to ultimately provide as much as $42 million in state and federal funds to bring the state's Medicaid dental care payment rates up to the regional median.
The budget also includes $1.4 million to increase the ability of local health clinics to provide dental care, particularly in underserved areas. Another $700,000 is dedicated to school-based dental programs, including a mobile dental services program.
Lawmakers also approved legislation during the last session that will allow dental hygienists working in public health settings to provide preventive care to patients in the facilities where they work, as well as in schools and other settings. The measure is scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1. The law will allow services to be provided without the authorization or supervision of a dentist, which state law currently requires. According to Norman Tinanoff, a health policy expert at the University of Maryland Dental School, the rule "could stop the bottleneck" in getting low-income patients into the dental care system (Otto, Washington Post, 4/20).