Local News

Finding Dentists Who Accept Medicaid Patients is Like Pulling Teeth

Posted January 31, 1999

— Almost half of all kindergartners in North Carolina have dental disease. Most of the problems could have been prevented by routine care, care their parents cannot afford.

Most dentists do not accept Medicaid patients. People who do not have the money do not get the care, including children.

To make matters worse, most of the dentists who do accept Medicaid do not publicize it.

Shannara, 14, has been waiting a year and a half for an appointment to get braces.

Although there is no shortage of dentists, there is a shortage of doctors who will take her Medicaid insurance.

"These children suffer needlessly," said Dr. Leslee Lancaster.

Lancaster is the number one provider of Medicaid orthodontics in North Carolina.

Lancaster even sends a bus to pick up patients for their appointments.

"It's tough. I mean I know it, but I'm able to sleep at night," said Lancaster.

Many of her colleagues do not share her feelings.

They refuse to see Medicaid patients, because they lose money with each appointment.

The state-sponsored insurance will not pay more than 65 percent of the normal cost.

But they also take a hit when patients do not show up. Every appointment is money lost.

"If you could guarantee that patients are going to be there for their appointment, that would solve everything, but you can't guarantee that," said Lancaster.

"That's interesting, because I always thought it was reimbursement," said Dr. Betty King Sutton, N.C. Medicaid Dental Program Director.

She says patients do have an obligation to show up, but they cannot do that if dentists do not provide care, which they are not obligated to do.

"It should be a moral obligation to take care of your state's or your community's indigent residents, but they don't have to," said Sutton.

If everyone did their part, patients like Shannara would have much more to smile about.

The state's Medicaid department is trying to attract more dentists with an outreach program.

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