Legislation to improve access to dental care across the state is pending in Boston, and CHP Berkshires has weighed in with its support for the creation of mid-level dental practitioners.
CHP has met with our state legislative delegation and delivered letters to relevant leaders in Boston, the Mass League of Community Health Centers, and the Massachusetts Dental Society.
June 21, 2023
Joint Committee on Public Health
Massachusetts State House
RE: H2253/S1379 An Act to improve oral health for all Massachusetts residents and other dental care initiatives
To Whom It May Concern:
We are writing to appeal for your support of measures to address the crisis in access to dental care for our state’s residents, and especially the MassHealth patients. This challenge is particularly acute in rural Berkshire County, where CHP Berkshires (Community Health Programs Inc.) is struggling to meet the oral health care needs of a growing number of area residents, including those residents whose MassHealth coverage is no longer accepted by private dental practices.
Here is why your support is urgently needed:
- Nearly all private dental practices in our region have ceased accepting MassHealth, and their patients are now turning to CHP Berkshires—one of just two practices accepting MassHealth coverage.
- As of Jan 1, 2023, a large pediatric dental practice in our region ceased accepting MassHealth patients. Approximately 2,600 pediatric dental patients are now turning to CHP Berkshires for their care.
- The acute shortage of dentists and dental hygienists in our rural region has created untenable waits for routine preventive dental care in our community: our practice has just 1.5 dental hygienists and 6 dentists for 12,000 CHP dental patients.
- Wait times for preventive dental care can lead to dental emergencies, which then lead to costly interventions and the risk of dependence on pain medications.
- Heavy demand on our short-staffed dental practices is a threat to staff retention and recruitment of new dental personnel to our rural region.
The state recognizes the challenges our MassHealth patients face in accessing oral health care. As of January 2023, MassHealth increased reimbursement rates for practices accepting MassHealth as payment and began paying for previously uncovered procedures. This has helped us to meet our growing demand and to plan for expansion of dental services – although staffing challenges remain acute.
The Legislature can help us to address our dental staffing challenges. We urge you to vote to pass H.2253/S.1379 An Act to improve oral health for all Massachusetts residents which will establish mid-level dental practitioners to take on more of the routine care provided by dentists, whose skills are needed for more complex dental care.
Mid-level dental practitioners will do for the dental profession what nurse practitioners have done for the medical profession. This model for quality dental care has proven successful elsewhere in the U.S., and is expanding throughout the U.S. in underserved areas, enabling care more quickly for more patients. This initiative also has the support of the Massachusetts Dental Society.
In addition, we ask that you support the related bills to strengthen oral health care for our state’s most vulnerable residents.
CHP Berkshires is committed to, and proud of, its dedication to caring for our region’s residents with both medical AND dental care. We have made substantial strides in reducing wait times, expanding facilities and serving the MassHealth patients for whom private practices have ended care. We are investing in a mobile dental unit as well; nevertheless, our biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining enough staff to serve our patients. Thank you in advance for your support of oral health care in our state, especially in our underserved rural patients in Berkshire County.
Richard H. Gregg, Interim CEO
Nicole Wilkinson, Director of Dental Operations
Berkshire County Legislative Delegation
Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli
Rep. John Barrett
Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier
Sen. Paul Mark
Kiame Mahaniah, Undersecretary of Health, Executive Office of Health and Human Services