The high cost for Wisconsin: underinsured seek emergency departments to fulfill dental needs
Baez Scheeler, Kathryn
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Out of desperation and often the need for pain relief, underinsured citizens are utilizing emergency departments across the state of Wisconsin to satisfy their need to seek dental treatment. These visits result in poor pain management and no relief for the problem. The Medicaid program of the state of Wisconsin offers dentists no incentive to accept Medicaid recipients; dentists cite low reimbursement rates that do not cover their basic costs. Due to unorthodox state legislation, emergency department visits are being financially supported by millions of Wisconsin taxpayer dollars. The purpose of this study is to examine the level of access to dental care that underinsured citizens have in three areas of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, Wausau, and the Fox Valley. A convenience sample was used to collect data from patients who were in waiting rooms at community health centers in Milwaukee (MLK Heritage Health Center), Wausau (Bridge Community Health Clinic), and the Fox Valley (Partnership Community Health Center). Data analysis was based on 285 surveys completed by patients over the period of three years. Descriptive statistics and Pearson’s Chi-squared analyses were carried out, using Version 21 of SPSS. The findings indicate that a sizable number of participants (32%) had used an emergency department at least once when requiring dental care. P88 atients, regardless of race/ethnicity were seeking out dental services further away from their homes, while patients on Medicaid had to contact more dentists before they could find one that would accept Medicaid. Further, those who identified as being at or below the poverty level and those with Medicaid insurance were more likely to go to the emergency department for a dental reason. Moreover, Blacks were more likely than Caucasians to use city transportation than a personal vehicle to go to a dentist. The study also found that those who pulled their tooth instead of seeking treatment to save money and those who had been told that it was cheaper to pull a tooth than to save it were more likely to visit the emergency department. These findings imply that adequacy of Medicaid reimbursement rates is questionable. Patients enrolled in Medicaid programs cannot easily locate and utilize dental services they need. It would be fiscally responsible for the state government to increase dental Medicaid reimbursement. As a result, access to dental care and preventive dental treatments for Medicaid patients would increase.