By Terry Dougherty
This week the Pew Center on the States, a non-profit organization that identifies and advances effective solutions to critical issues facing the nation’s states, gave Massachusetts an “A” grade for ensuring dental health and access to care for children. The Center’s report, released annually, is entitled, “The State of Children’s Dental Health: Making Coverage Matter.” It evaluates and grades states on their success in ensuring that low-income children have access to basic, preventive dental care; this year’s report reflects an upgrade for Massachusetts from last year’s ‘C’ grade.
Quality dental care is critical to children’s health and education. Children who do not have access to quality dental care are more likely to be absent from school and grow into adults with dental problems, which can adversely impact their health, employment and lifestyle. MassHealth’s dedication and commitment to making significant strides in expanding access to dental services for children in the past year is evident in Pew Center’s upgrade.
The Center’s 50-state report card shows that just seven states, including Massachusetts, earned an “A” and 23 states received a “C” or lower. Massachusetts received a grade of “A” for meeting or exceeding at least six of the eight key benchmarks for dental policy approaches, including tracking of data on children’s dental health; payment of Medicaid providers for early preventative dental care; and achieving a certain percentage of Medicaid children receiving dental services.
The Pew Center recognized Massachusetts for the success of MassHealth’s public health dental hygienists program, which has enabled hygienists to apply protective sealants, a particularly significant change in school-based dental programs. Sealants are an important way to help reduce tooth decay in school children and improve dental health. MassHealth was also recognized for notably increasing the number of high-risk schools with sealant programs. Similarly, the ‘A’ grade from Pew reflects the state’s overall commitment to collecting data that tracks children’s dental health.
I’m very proud of MassHealth’s ‘A’ grade for children’s dental services and its overall commitment to children’s health care. I am even prouder of the larger, statewide commitment that this superior grade reflects, which is unwavering support for our most cherished constituency: the Commonwealth’s kids.
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Terry Dougherty is Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services and Medicaid Director for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts