Gary Harbison, Executive Director, Missouri Coalition for Oral Health
The 2018 session wrapped up in May with successes for oral health. Adult dental benefits in Medicaid continue to be part of the state budget and services continue uninterrupted throughout the state, although access remains a challenge. Since reinstatement in 2016 thousands of Medicaid-eligible adults have accessed dental care, with millions of dollars in dental care provided. We have begun to see a resultant reduction in the use of emergency rooms for dental care. This is important for several reasons, including the fact that dental care is not provided in the ER. Importantly, reducing ER usage for non-traumatic dental conditions will reduce the use of highly addictive opioids for pain. Clearly, with Medicaid adult dental benefits, we have a more efficient, effective and sensibly-managed health care system.
It is a testament to the collective leverage of the Coalition and our partners that adult dental remains in the budget even as the state faces financial challenges. We expect those challenges to continue, making our collective impact of greater importance in future sessions.
This session Rep. Lichtenegger filed legislation to support sound local decision making by ensuring the local health department weighs in on issues that impact public oral health. We think it is sensible to ensure that the local entity charged with protecting the health of the public is able to present good, scientific information about public water fluoridation to the local decision making body. The bill went to committee and had a positive public hearing. That is a good showing for the first year of a new bill.
This session had many distractions, not the least of which was our change in Governor. It is a testament to the discipline of the legislature that work continued in spite of such unprecedented issues. We will plan to seek a new filing of that bill in the 2019 session.
We will miss Rep. Lichtenegger, who served her last session due to term limits. She has truly been a legislative oral health champion throughout her years in the legislature. We wish her the best.
In the 2018 session we saw the passage of Rep. Barnes’ legislation that cleans up and simplifies existing laws relating to telehealth. This will make the ongoing development of teledentistry in Missouri progress more easily.
The Coalition has been able to seek funding to expand operations, most notably in the form of a new position, the Community Outreach and Project Development Director. Ashley Herrman will join the Coalition in August and brings a wealth of experience in making connections with local communities, the primary focus of this new and exciting position.
Jessi Emmerich joined the Coalition in June as Office Manager. She has adapted well to the position and is polishing her multi-tasking skills, although her experience has prepared her well for this dynamic job. Prior to joining the Coalition, Jessi worked for the Missouri Department of Social Services, including significant time with MO HealthNet during the 2017 Managed Care extension.
The Coalition is actively seeking new opportunities to further the mission of improving the oral health of all Missourians through sound public health and public awareness, including grant submissions for an oral health awareness campaign pilot and new advocacy-focused work. Stay tuned for more information.
Planning for the 2019 Missouri Oral Health Policy conference is already underway. You can expect exciting, thought-provoking, interactive presentations on Missouri teledentistry, oral health advocacy, dental professionals working with Medicaid and more. Watch for updates and announcements.
We have collectively achieved momentum and true advancement in oral health policy, while we continue to see the tremendous oral health challenges faced by the state of Missouri. We see many opportunities to make improvements in the health and well-being of Missourians, and we continue to set goals, both small and large, and we work diligently for our achievements.
Thanks for all you do for Missouri oral health!