Bill to give pregnant women on AHCCCS dental coverage moves forward

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Legislation to add dental coverage for pregnant woman on the state’s Medicaid program has cleared another hurdle and is one step closer to becoming law.

Senate Bill 1088, which would provide comprehensive dental care coverage to pregnant women who receive care through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill appropriates $178,900 from the state general fund to cover eligible pregnant women.

“Fifth year’s the charm,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, quipped. Carter has been pushing the idea since 2015.

Before the Great Recession, AHCCCS covered dentistry for all adults enrolled. But when the state faced billions of dollars in budget deficits, dental coverage was among the many government services cut and never restored. Advocates successfully pushed for lawmakers to expand AHCCCS coverage to include coverage for disabled individuals over the age of 21 in 2017.

Two doctors appeared before the committee in support of the bill, saying it would help decrease costs to AHCCCS in the long term.

Dr. David Rolf, a periodontist and professor at Midwestern University, told the committee about a study in the New England Medical Journal that showed bacteria associated with periodontal disease found in the placentas of pregnant women who gave birth prematurely.

“Benjamin Franklin was right, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Rolf said.

Dr. Nathan Lepp, who specializes in neonatal care, said costs for a premature baby can range from a few thousand dollars to over a million depending on the severity of the case. Additionally, many of these children have long term issues.

The average cost for AHCCCS to care for a premature baby is between $22,000 to $67,000, according to Ann Hammi Blue, a periodontist in Phoenix who has been advocating for increased access to dental care for pregnant women.

“By giving mother’s dental care during pregnancy we can improve their dental health,” Lepp said, adding that the bill is “not a silver bullet.”

If the bill is deemed constitutional by the Rules Committee, it will be ready for consideration by the full Senate.

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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