March 13, 2013

KanCare dentists sparse across stateReport: Not enough KanCare dentists to serve patients

Access to dental services for KanCare patients is poor to nonexistent around the state, according to the Kansas Dental Project.

Access to dental services for KanCare patients is poor to nonexistent around the state, according to the Kansas Dental Project.

The project said more than 28,000 KanCare patients live in 37 counties that don’t have any dentists who are part of the network.

The numbers came from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Feb. 8. KDHE is updating the data, according to a department spokesperson.

KanCare is the state’s new Medicaid program.

“We’re in the middle of our February and March reporting of provider access coverage, and we will have the latest coverage maps for our KanCare providers, including dentists, within the next few business days,” Miranda Steele, KDHE communications director, wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle.

According to the Feb. 8 numbers, even in counties that do have dentists enrolled in KanCare, access is inadequate, said Suzanne Wikle, director of the Kansas Dental Project.

Sedgwick County has about 62 dentists enrolled in KanCare. But there are 84,692 KanCare beneficiaries in the county, including 59,432 children. That means a ratio of 1,357 KanCare beneficiaries for every enrolled dentist in the county, including 952 children, she said.

“It simply isn’t enough,” Wikle said. “One dentist has between 2,000 and 2,500 patients, so you’re talking about 60 percent of their patients would have to be KanCare, which is just unrealistic.”

The ratios are worse in the Topeka and Kansas City areas, she said.

The Kansas Dental Project is led by Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved and the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition. Wikle said the project is trying to get legislation passed that would allow dental hygienists to get more education and become licensed to perform basic dental work under the supervision of dentists. That would help expand the number of KanCare patients dentists could accept, she said.

This is the third year the legislation has been brought forward. Support is growing, but policy developments of that magnitude take time, she said.

Wikle said the problem wasn’t created by KanCare. But, she said, “The important thing is that there’s been this promise made that the service will improve and adults will have access to dental benefits. But if we don’t have enough dental providers in the state to provide care, then those promises won’t be realized.”

The five counties with the highest ratio of patients per dentist are Bourbon (3,163), Neosho (3,074), Miami (2,422), Reno (2,398) and Franklin (2,193). The state average is 1,117 KanCare patients per dentist, according to the project.

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