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Senate Health budget panel advances children’s Medicaid dental proposal

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Despite some push-back from some health insurance carriers, the Senate Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee approved a bill to reform children’s dental coverage, creating an independent program to administer it under the state’s Medicaid regime.

The bill, SB 994, is sponsored by newly-minted Senate President-to-be Sen. Joe Negron. Negron said the state’s participation levels in the program is too low – “as low as in the mid-30s,” though insurers disputed that figure – and that many states who have gone to a separate, independent program for children’s dental have seen more patients receiving treatment.

States like Connecticut and others who have switched from a unified Medicaid dental program see participation rates of 80 percent or better.

Negron said both Democratic- and Republican-leaning states are making the switch – including Louisiana, California, North Carolina, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Tennessee in the last two years – and Florida would do well to follow their example.

The immediate fiscal impact for next year would be $450,000, for expert consulting on the proposal and five new positions at the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Negron said his bill lets the current 5-year contract continue undisturbed and unabated; AHCA will conduct a study and report to the governor and Legislature; and if the Legislature fails to act by 2017, revert the program back to being an independent, carved-in program.

Audrey Brown, head of the Florida Association of Health Plans, objected to the latter provision.

“Florida’s health plans do not oppose a study of the effectiveness of pediatric dental services under statewide medical managed care as contemplated in the bill,” said Brown. “The plans know dental health is a key component of overall health.”

“Our underlying issue with this bill is the way it is drafted. No matter what the study shows, the results don’t seem to matter,” said Brown, referring to the automatic carve-out clause in the bill if the Legislature does not act otherwise. “We ask that before a policy change is made, that the results of the study are evaluated and considered. Otherwise, the study is truly irrelevant.”

Negron said lawmakers certainly would consider the study of the $240 million dollar program.

“My view is, I would rather err on the side of being with the national trend. I’m confident that we’ll be up to that task,” closed Negron.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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