By CORTNEY ERNDT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2014 budget proposal to expand the Healthy Kids Dental program in West and Southeast Michigan has been blocked by House and Senate panels.
West Michigan District Dental Society representative and Zeeland dentist Meredith Smedley said, “The hearts of the dentists in Ottawa County are breaking over the decision to reject the expansion.”
Snyder recommended $11.6 million to expand the program into Ottawa, Ingham and Washtenaw counties. The program now operates in 75 of Michigan’s 83 counties to provide care to Medicaid-eligible residents under age 21.
According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, the expansion would lead to dental care for 50 percent of eligible children statewide next year. The governor also supports an expansion for 100,000 children in Kalamazoo, Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties in 2015.
The House subcommittee said the legislature has other fiscal priorities. The Senate subcommittee included a placeholder in the budget to ensure further debate in a joint House and Senate conference.
Delta Dental public relations officer Sarina Gleason said nearly 80 percent of dentists who practice in the 75 eligible counties participate in the program, serving about 440,000 children.
Delta Dental is one of the largest dental plan administrators in the nation. With support from the Michigan Dental Association, Delta Dental developed Healthy Kids Dental.
Smedley and West Michigan District Dental Society President Tyler Wolf of Jenison said the most serious problems for uninsured children include cavities and gum disease.
“If they have decay that goes untreated, their teeth can become infected and very painful,” Smedley said, “Once at this point, treatment becomes more expensive and more out-of-reach for many families.”
Smedley said, “We understand that our government is in a difficult position with trying to serve as many programs as possible within a budget. However, we feel that our local children are in desperate need of dental assistance.
The House subcommittee’s rejection is “a blow to our efforts to serve those in need,” Wolf said. “We are encouraging all of our member dentists to write letters to their legislators on behalf of saving the funding for this program in our local counties.”
“I have sent letters and emails to all of my government representatives to let them know the importance of this program,” he said.
Department of Community Health public information officer Angela Minicuci said the American Dental Association recognized the program as one of the top five national models for improving access to dental care for low-income children.
By CORTNEY ERNDT