Monday, April 17, 2017

National Minority Health Month: A Thank You to Community Health Promoters

During National Minority Health Month, we’re calling attention to barriers many people must overcome to enjoy their best health, and the advocates who help them. 

One of our jobs as a leading health care organization is to help people understand what they need to do to stay healthy – and that starts with literacy.

Literacy skills are one of the strongest predictors of oral health status – stronger than age, income, employment status, education level, or racial/ethnic group.  It is estimated that at least a third of adults in the United States have limited health literacy and nearly half of all American adults - 90 million people - have difficulty understanding and using health information. Because of that, folks delay taking action, and before long, small problems become big health issues.  

Community health workers are stepping in to help people understand and navigate our health care system. It’s a very personal approach to health education. DentaQuest’s outreach team spends a lot of time in the community talking to people about oral health and explaining dental benefits and how to use them. National Minority Health Month gives us an opportunity to talk about the importance of community health workers — promotores*, or  outreach specialists. These committed team members are doing incredible work to bridge health equity across communities.

Community outreach specialists are hyper grassroots, frontline public health translators. Using the strength of their personality; personal contacts; trust; and an intimate understanding of the community’s strengths, needs and social networks, they tackle sensitive health topics, correct misinformation, and connect people with quality care.  In some parts of the United States, our certified promotores are at work in rural and urban areas at clinics, churches, workplaces, schools, and even around agricultural fields.

These outreach specialists are very important to achieving our goal of ending dental disease in children. An estimated 17 million low income children in the United States go without oral health care each year—that’s about one out of every five children. 

Outreach workers help figure out why that happens. It might be because the families don’t know they should seek dental care for the children. It could be because the caregivers don’t know where to find a dentist. And it could be that the parents simply fear going to the dentist and share that fear with their kids. Outreach workers calm fears, educate and guide caregivers, and help them navigate the complexities of our health care system. They introduce families to preventive services, and even check back to be sure treatments that are initiated get completed.

And it’s not just for children. Regular screenings and preventive education for people of all ages reduce poor health outcomes and health expenditures. Outreach specialists help adults understand systemic health – what smoking does to the body or how managing mouth disease helps control diabetes and heart disease, for instance. It’s the trusting relationship with the community that enables outreach specialists to cross the cultural divide and get people involved in disease prevention and wellness. This is a critical role, especially where language, transportation and cultural responses are barriers to health.

National Minority Health Month - with this year's theme of health equity - is an opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated work of our promotores / outreach specialists and to give thanks for their genuine servicio de corazon (service from the heart).

Thank you for all you do to advance health equity nationwide!

*Promotores de salud, also known as promotoras, is Spanish for “community health worker.” 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Prioritizing Our Seniors: Why Offering Medicare Dental Coverage Matters

More than 46 million seniors lack dental coverage, according to a 2015 report on enrollment from the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) and Delta Dental Plans Association (DDPA). And that number is only expected to rise with our burgeoning population of older adults.

In order to help more seniors get covered, U.S. federal policy must more effectively address the oral health needs of this population.

Recently, there have been several big news stories about the barriers 70 percent of seniors face to receive quality oral health care.

One major contributor is that dental care is not covered under Medicare. Boston College researchers found that the percentage of people with dental coverage declines by more than half in the 10 years after reaching retirement age -- from 62 percent at age 65 to 26 percent at 75. Why? According to CBS News, the study suggests the following...

The reason: When most workers retire, they lose the dental coverage provided by their employer or union. But doesn’t Medicare, which starts at age 65, step in and pick up the slack? Not on your canines, “a fact that a majority of baby boomers are unaware of…”

According to a recent survey of 2,000 registered U.S. voters conducted by DentaQuest via Morning Consult, this is not a partisan issue. In fact, 83 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats responded that dental coverage should be included in Medicare.

Without coverage, seniors face significant out-of-pocket costs to obtain appropriate oral health care, as they are more likely to need the most costly procedures, such as crowns, implants, or false teeth as they age. Seniors are also more likely to have chronic conditions that may complicate or exacerbate these oral health issues.

Because traditional Medicare does not provide dental coverage, Medicare Advantage plans are taking a lead in providing oral health coverage for seniors. In fact, DentaQuest partners with many of these plans because they recognize the importance of oral health to the overall health of older adults. However, these benefits are optional or supplemental and not all seniors can afford to pay out of pocket for this coverage.   

More affordable solutions are necessary to bridge this gap for our seniors.

With all of the discussion surrounding changes to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, policies to expand dental coverage have largely gone overlooked. However, DentaQuest has taken steps to begin addressing this gap.

A few weeks ago, the DentaQuest Foundation announced a $668,000 grant to Oral Health America to expand the Wisdom Tooth Project and increase advocacy for publicly funded dental coverage for seniors. This project focuses on five strategies including education for seniors and professionals and pilot demonstration projects to combat barriers to care. The DentaQuest Foundation has been pivotal in supporting Oral Health America’s efforts for older adult oral health since 2010.

As health care prepares to undergo substantial changes, industry stakeholders may support different proposals but our goal should remain the same. We echo AHIP’s comments that the industry must bond together “to ensure every American has access to affordable coverage and quality care so they can achieve their best health.”

Expanding access to health care, including oral health care, is a foundational pillar to achieve this goal.

We cannot leave our seniors behind.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Building Health Literacy with Read Across America

If you’ve ever read a book with a child, you know the feeling of joy that comes from the experience, as well as how fundamental literacy is for people of any age.

So it is a source of pride that DentaQuest staff from coast to coast are joining teachers, celebrities, community members and parents in getting kids excited about reading through the National Education Association's (NEA's) Read Across America Campaign, a celebration of reading timed with the birthday of Dr. Seuss.

As health industry professionals, we have a responsibility to educate consumers so they can be active advocates for their own health. In its health literacy fact sheetthe CDC says 9 out of 10 adults struggle to understand and use health information, especially when it is unfamiliar, complex or jargon-filled. In fact, low literacy contributes to poor health outcomes, higher rates of hospital utilization, and less frequent use of preventive services, in addition to overall higher health care costs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, since 1993 just 53 to 58 percent of children ages 3 to 5 years read or were read to on a daily basis.

Simply reading daily with a child is important.

  • Children who are read to at home have a higher success rate in school. 
  • Children who read frequently develop stronger reading skills. 

As part of this year’s NEA campaign, our staff is visiting schools in:
  • Columbia, S.C.; 
  • Locust Hill and Richmond, Va.; 
  • Lincoln, Neb.; 
  • Milwaukee and Mequon, Wisc.; 
  • Austin and Red Rock, Texas; 
  • Doral, Fla.; 
  • Snoqualmie, Wa.; 
  • Anniston, Ala.; and 
  • the Greater Boston area. 

We are reading one of three fun books --Throw Your Tooth on the Roof by Selby B. Beeler, The Tooth Book by Edward Miller, and Open Wide by Laurie Keller. The school’s library will also get the book to keep for future reading.

Staff who have already visited classrooms said they felt like rock stars and oral health ambassadors. The children loved the facts we shared about their teeth, including how they should take care of their own teeth and gums.

Dental disease is the most common chronic childhood disease – and it is preventable. Introducing children to fun facts about their mouths, teeth and gums through the books we brought for Read Across America is a strong step in building the health literacy skills and disease prevention awareness that will empower this next generation of consumers to be health-knowledgeable adults.

Efforts like these will go a long way to helping us achieve our vision of being a nation where children can grow up free of dental disease.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Let's Talk Water Fluoridation this Children's Dental Health Month

In addition to Valentine’s and Presidents’ Days, February also marks National Children’s Dental Health Month, with a theme this year connected to fluoridation.

Dating back to February 1941, the month-long celebration brings together dental professionals, health care providers, educators, policymakers and more stakeholders to promote the benefits of good oral health for children through various activities and events.

This year’s campaign slogan is “Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile,” focusing on the value of fluoridation.

Fluoride combines with enamel on the tooth’s surface to make it stronger, better able to resist decay, and prevent dental caries —the most common chronic disease for children.  

Over the years, research has supported the value of fluoridation:

Water fluoridation, since it requires passive action to show effect, offers a simple solution to contain total oral health expenditures, improve population health, and set children up to have better oral health as adults.

Water fluoridation benefits the entire community, regardless of status or background, which is critical to addressing ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic barriers to effective oral healthcare—a widespread problem in the United States.

National Institutes of Health data indicates that 20 percent of White, non-Hispanic Americans have untreated tooth decay compared to 40 percent for Black, non-Hispanic Americans and 38 percent for Mexican Americans.

This data also showed that individuals below the federal poverty line (FPL) are almost three times more likely to have untreated decay compared to those making twice the FPL or above.

This makes dental disease a disease of disparities, which can be prevented, in part, by easy and free access to fluoride.

Fluoridated water is an evidence-based, cost-effective path to promote health equity and, as an oral health organization committed to improving the oral health of all, it is just another reason DentaQuest celebrates National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dental Coverage has Bipartisan Support among Voters

As the new Trump Administration and Republican Congress begin their work this month, they will have the opportunity to advance conservative priorities through major legislative changes. At the top of their list is repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which will have implications for the dental health and overall health of many Americans.

ACA replacement proposals from President-elect Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan, and the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services Rep. Tom Price should signal major changes forthcoming to the health care industry.

The ACA’s Medicaid expansion, essential health benefits, and exchange provisions have increased access to dental care for both children and adults. While the future of these elements is uncertain, we at DentaQuest want to ensure that replacement proposals do not jeopardize this important access to oral health. We’ve made great strides in eliminating barriers to dental coverage for millions of Americans who gained access through the ACA.

As policymakers consider different replacement plans, the role of oral health must remain a priority. 

In a recent survey of 2,000 registered U.S. voters conducted by DentaQuest via Morning Consult, the inclusion of dental coverage in public programs received widespread support from voters of both parties.

The survey showed that:

  • 83 percent of respondents think dental coverage should be a part of Medicare
    • 83 percent of Republicans agree
    • 86 percent of Democrats agree
    • 81 percent of Independents agree
  • 73 percent of respondents believe dental coverage should be a required benefit in Medicaid
    • 64 percent of Republicans agree
    • 82 percent of Democrats agree
    • 71 percent of Independents agree

Dental coverage is not currently included in Medicare, nor is it a required benefit for adults in Medicaid. A full repeal of the ACA could compound oral health access issues by eliminating Medicaid expansion and the exchanges— two important sources of affordable dental coverage.

Research continues to show a connection between oral and overall health. Dental coverage is a critical first step to improve both oral and overall health outcomes, reduce persistent health disparities, and contain systemic costs.

As policymakers seek to improve our existing health care system, oral health must be a part of the solution. 

It is clear: Dental coverage has demonstrated itself to be a bipartisan priority for the American public. As we enter a 2017 legislative session with significant health care policy changes on the agenda, dental coverage must also remain a priority for Congress.

The full survey conducted by DentaQuest and Morning Consult will be released in 2017.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Proud to Reflect on DentaQuest Giving Back, Remain Committed for 2017

The start of a new year is an opportunity to reflect and consider how we fit into the community at large. Through our corporate giving program and the volunteered talents of our staff, we are investing in our neighborhoods, supporting our stakeholders, and creating leadership opportunities for our employees. Here are highlights from 2016 that will help us have even greater impact for 2017:

Community is the Foundation of What We Do

We awarded Corporate Giving funds to safety net dental programs and community organizations that help thousands of at-risk children, families, people with disabilities, and seniors. We were also involved with organizations working to feed the hungry, prepare the next generation workforce, end health disparities and inequity, and help neighbors who are struggling to get through each day.

In 2016, DentaQuest’s Giving Program touched 165 organizations in 26 states. And that is in addition to the millions of dollars in investments made by our DentaQuest Foundation and our DentaQuest Institute to community change makers who are working for better policies, financing, and care with a goal of improving the oral health of all. All this matters because oral health really is fundamental to living a healthy life and important to academic and economic success.

Missions of Mercy Dental Clinics

While our 24 million members have access to quality dental care, there are millions more who are uninsured or underinsured and fall through the cracks at the worst of times. Many of them depend on the arrival of the Mission of Mercy, a multi-day free clinic staffed by volunteers, for essential dental care services. Working with local dental societies and our local staff volunteers, DentaQuest supported 21 free care clinics in 18 states.

Consider that, on average, each Mission of Mercy clinic serves 1,500 to 2,000 patients; the dental clinics that we supported provided over $15,000,000 in services and helped nearly 30,000 individuals who have great needs and few other options.

Stand Together in Times of Crisis

Our employee-directed Corporate Giving Committee directed financial support to communities that suffered in 2016: areas recovering from Hurricane Matthew in Florida and South Carolina, the once-in-a-century floods in Louisiana, flooded areas of rural West Virginia, the destructive wildfires (and tornado) in Tennessee. Support was also sent to Orlando after it suffered a violent shooting and to a help those in need after a five-alarm fire in Cambridge, Mass.

Throughout the year, we provided toothbrushes to schools, after school programs, and community health fairs serving at-risk children in high need neighborhoods. And through our matched giving program, our employees made additional contributions to charities close to their hearts.

Sweat Equity 

For us, giving is a combination of equity and sweat. Our employees look forward to attending local events that support the community and are willing volunteers at health fairs, walks for a cause, and dental care clinics.

During our annual Mission Month (mid-September to mid-October), we roll up our sleeves and leave the office to conquer high-impact projects tailored to the need of the community. This year, it was to feed families at Ronald McDonald Houses, paint and update schools and community centers, remove invasive plants from local rivers, and reclaim and replant city gardens.

We participated in 35 events in 11 states. A remarkable 67 percent of our employees participated in a Mission Month project, contributing over 3,612 volunteer hours, valued at $93,912.

Some go even further. Our Living the Mission Awards honor employees who go above and beyond for their sustained volunteer contributions to a charitable organization outside of Mission Month or company-sponsored events. Congrats again to those awardees!

What's Next?

Looking back on what we’ve accomplished in 2016, it is with pride that we can say we live our mission every day.  We truly are the dental company with vision, and heart. Looking forward, we will aim higher, find ways to give more of ourselves to those around us, and ultimately stay true to our mission - improving the oral health of all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Adult Medicaid Dental is Key to Overall Health, Requires Increased Access

Medicaid programs are well-positioned to prioritize optimal oral health in their states through adult dental benefits, but systematic changes are necessary to fully address barriers to dental care.

Although Medicaid programs are required to provide pediatric dental coverage for low-income children, extending those benefits to the adult population is optional. Currently 15 states offer extensive dental coverage for low-income adults on Medicaid, while 17 states only provide coverage for dental emergencies or provide no coverage at all.

Robust adult dental benefits can have tremendous impacts on state Medicaid populations:

·         Individuals with dental benefits are 42 percent more likely to have a dental checkup within the year than individuals who don’t have coverage. Additionally, when parents receive care, their children are more likely to go to the dentist as well.

·         Reducing or eliminating Medicaid adult dental benefits has led to significant increases in dental-related emergency department visit and associated costs in states like California.

·         Ensuring low-income adults have access to comprehensive dental coverage can improve employability, as adults lose millions of work hours each year due to dental disease.

·         Increasing access to dental coverage can help to reduce disparities as well because untreated dental disease disproportionately afflicts racial and ethnic minorities.

·         Treatment of gum disease can lead to better health management — as evidenced by lower health care costs and fewer hospitalizations — among people with common health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy. These links to improved overall health management are particularly critical for Medicaid beneficiaries.

The economic, oral health, and overall health outcomes above are tremendous arguments for states to invest in a Medicaid adult dental benefit, but access challenges will persist without systematic approaches to oral health.

In this month’s publication of Health Affairs, research conducted by the DentaQuest Institute and the American Dental Association shows that emergency department utilization for oral health conditions rose in Kentucky after Medicaid expansion, which included a dental benefit for adults.

In the emergency department, patients generally receive palliative and costly care. A combination of pain-management (usually opioids) and infection management for preventable conditions costs the U.S. health care system an estimated $1.6 billion annually.

Presumably, increasing coverage under Medicaid would have reduced emergency department utilization and associated costs. Why didn’t this happen for Kentucky?

Although Kentucky expanded dental coverage to adults in Medicaid, the state still faced many challenges:

Coverage is a critical first step to ensuring access to dental services for adults served by Medicaid, but it cannot be the only step. 

While information in Kentucky suggests that an increase in emergency department use following the addition of an adult Medicaid dental benefit is likely temporary, strategies to improve oral health in a state must go beyond coverage alone.

Key strategies that states must consider include:
  • provider capacity and support, 
  • reimbursement rates,
  • dynamic oral health education, and 
  • the integration of oral health screenings and/or referrals into primary care are. 

These factors are critical to ensure that patients receive the most appropriate care in a timely manner and in the most appropriate setting.

Fortunately, organizations like DentaQuest are creating multi-pronged approaches to these systemic oral health challenges.

At DentaQuest, we align philanthropy, science, coverage and care to improve the oral health of all. DentaQuest Foundation delivers millions of dollars in grant funding to hundreds of initiatives across the nation, fostering oral health innovation at the grassroots level. Ideas that prove most promising are leveraged by the DentaQuest Institute, which develops innovative clinical care and practice management solutions to help providers deliver optimal care.

Programs and initiatives that prove to be both effective and scalable by the DentaQuest Institute are then integrated in a broader fashion by DentaQuest Benefits Administration and the DentaQuest Care Group, fueling a comprehensive disease management approach toward health that is prevention-focused and outcome-driven. 

We are more than just a dental administrator. We are an incubator of innovation and a proving ground for pioneering initiatives in the oral health space that improve health.

These types of collaborative solutions that incorporate a wide array of stakeholders are imperative to successfully improve oral health in a state and to achieve the Triple Aim – reduce healthcare costs, improve the patient experience, and achieve better health outcomes.