Dentist Molly Smith performs a check-up on an 11-year-old patient at the offices of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition in Craig in 2013. The office is one of the few places in the region that accepts Medicaid.

Andy Bockelman/File

Dentist Molly Smith performs a check-up on an 11-year-old patient at the offices of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition in Craig in 2013. The office is one of the few places in the region that accepts Medicaid.

Access to dental care improving for Routt County Medicaid patients

Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association hires hygienist, working with dentists

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— Access to affordable dental care in Routt County has been limited in recent years, but local public health officials are hopeful availability will improve in the coming months.

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association has hired a dental hygienist to serve low-income patients, including those on Medicaid, something that’s been generally unavailable in recent months.

Currently, availability of dental care for those using Medicaid or the uninsured with low incomes is extremely limited, with only one children’s dentist in Steamboat accepting young patients and limited or non-existent availability of care for adults.

“There are definitely barriers to access for low-income individuals,” said Lisa Brown, CEO of the VNA.

Those on Medicaid are able to travel to Craig for a dental visit at the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, though transportation is an obvious inconvenience. Or, there is a part-time dentist who accepts Medicaid working out of the South Routt Medical Center.

A Dental Coalition clinic in Steamboat closed during the past year because it wasn’t running at a financially sustainable level.

The problem of limited access to care for those on Medicaid has become apparent in the past two years with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act — leading to a greater number of insurance signups — and the more-recent addition of dental benefits to Medicaid coverage.

Since the first open enrollment period for insurance in late 2013, the number of Routt County residents enrolled in Medicaid has steadily increased, from 1,665 then to 3,590 in October 2014 to 4,172 last month.

“This is pushing 18 percent of our population,” said Vickie Clark, director of the Routt County Department of Human Services. “We have a lot of people who are eligible to access dental benefits through Medicaid, and there are not providers to meet the need.”

Brown said the VNA is working with local dentists in the hope that some will be open to taking Medicaid patients.

The VNA’s hygienist — who will begin seeing patients early next year — would then have somewhere to refer patients who need more extensive dental work, Brown said.

Accepting Medicaid patients can mean additional paperwork for dentists, who are also reimbursed at an amount lower than the cost of providing the care.

“The economics of it are very challenging,” Brown said.

The VNA hopes to ease the process for dentists willing to take on Medicaid patients by helping with billing, reimbursements and paperwork and to bring more local dentists on board in the coming months.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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