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A group of more than a dozen dentists based on the island and on the mainland wants to create a system to ensure that $26 million in public funds to restore dental coverage to 280,000 indigent patients is deployed effectively in January.
Adult Hawaii patients eligible for Medicaid – known as Med-QUEST in Hawaii – lost their dental benefits in 2009 during the economic crisis that led to budget cuts, including “Fridays off” for public servants in order to reduce costs.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers benefited from higher-than-expected budget revenues as the Hawaiian economy rebounded from the before-all-expected COVID-19 economic downturn, allowing program cuts to be restored and, in some cases, record funding levels.
But there is no comprehensive, uniform plan to link the newly restored money to the dental care that patients need across the state, especially in low-income rural areas.
During a visit about three months ago to residents of the Pu’uhonua o Wai’anae small house community of formerly homeless people who lived illegally next to the Waianae small craft harbor, Dr. Russell Kim said said a community leader surveyed about 40 residents how many of them were afraid of dentists. Almost all hands were up, said Kim, who runs a private dental practice in Kaneohe, sits on the board of directors that oversees Adventist Health Castle Medical Center and volunteers at Pu’uhonua o Wai’anae.
Perhaps more shocking, residents were then asked how many of their own teeth had been extracted, and again nearly all hands were up, Kim told Lt. Gov. Josh Green in a meeting with the hui this week.
The local group included representatives from various organizations such as Darrah Kauhane, executive director of the nonprofit Project Vision Hawai’i & Hawaiian Eye Foundation, which wants to raise awareness of restored funding and expand its services to low-income dental care. revenue ; Patrick Donnelly, program director of the Hawaii Oral Health Coalition; and Kanoa Switzer, Hawaiian healer and practitioner of hooponopono and laau kahea.
They were joined remotely in their hour-long meeting by the former dental director of public health in Iowa, the former director of public health in Massachusetts and the president of the National American Mobile and Teledentristry Alliance .
If elected governor on Nov. 8, Hui has asked Green to let him work with his administration to create a commission to ensure low-income adults get the dental care they haven’t had since. 13 years. He asked that everyone at Thursday’s meeting then participate in a formal commission to reform the delivery of dental services, which could involve overhauling state departments so that public dental services are not concentrated. solely on the Department of Health while Medicaid/Med-QUEST programs are run through the state Department of Human Services.
The group also suggested that the next state health director should have a background in oral health care.
Green, a Kona emergency physician who treats low-income rural patients, told the group he views quality dental care as part of his ongoing efforts to create more permanent housing for the homeless.
He said he understood how poor dental care can shape a person’s life and shared the story of his grandfather Samuel, a Polish immigrant who came to the United States aged 10 in 1920. and “lost most of his teeth”. Green said his grandfather gave up the opportunity in 1928 to attend Carnegie Tech, now known as Carnegie Melon, because he had no dentures. “He skipped college because of it…because of feeling ashamed that he didn’t have good oral health,” Green said. “I see all these things connected.”
Outgoing House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke helped guide restored funding for Med-QUEST through the legislature and called it “a long time coming”.
Federally qualified health centers across the state have pediatric dentists who treat juvenile Med-QUEST patients, so centers are already set up to treat low-income patients, Luke said. In addition, some dentists in private practice also treat homeless and formerly addicted meth patients for free, she said.
But Luke, vice president to Lieutenant Governor Green, said she’s especially encouraged that dentists and organizations are offering to help the state create a new ‘working’ system to transform funding. in essential dental care.
“I think it’s great,” said Luke. “We want to make sure we’re maximizing the funds.”