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Dental Care Access Problem Eases in Racine County

Racine---Low-income residents on Medicaid in Wisconsin often times have a hard time finding a dentist because low Medicaid reimbursement rates have made many dentists reluctant to accept them. Racine County is part of a four-county pilot program in which the state a year-and-a-half ago dramatically raised rates for the treatment of children, and to cover emergency care for adults.

It’s had a significant positive impact in Racine, according to dentist Maria Barnes. Barnes is one of a number of Racine County dentists who now accept patients that are on Medicaid. "I don't know any dentist that doesn't want to take Medicaid," she said. "These are all patients that need to be seen. I am very appreciative that I'm able to see these patients now and make it economically viable." 

In the past, what with the extremely low reimbursement rates, dentists could literally bankrupt themselves by taking too many Medicaid patients. Wisconsin ranks last in providing dental care to children on Medicaid, according to state officials citing federal data. 

Barnes says if the state would expand the higher rates to cover all counties, and if dentists would continue to offer free care in hard luck situations, the access crisis could be solved. 

The state is expected to issue a report on the pilot program in the coming weeks.

Wisconsin Public Radio recently produced a three-part series on the issue.