Dental care options dwindling for low-income families

Dentist (KSN File Photo)

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – There’s growing concern about how many Kansans on Medicaid don’t have access to a dentist.

“I’ve only been practicing for 33 years,” said Garden City dentist Jeff Stasch. “I know it’s been a problem for 33 years.”

Stasch says he says he’s had trouble breaking even with Medicaid patients throughout his career.

He stopped seeing Medicaid patients 20 years ago, saying all the paperwork made it hard to be reimbursed, and those reimbursement rates aren’t competitive with what insurance pays.

“Many times,” said Stasch, “things happen that they withdraw payments, withhold payments, and there hasn’t been a raise in the Medicaid payments since 2001.”

Stasch is not alone. Nearby Gray County is also dealing with a shortage of dentists.

“Gray County has no dentists at all and has not had any dentists for several years,” said Rayna Maddox with the Gray County Health Department, “and so everyone is used to traveling for their dental care anyway.”

Melinda Miner, a dentist from Hays, testified before a legislative committee this fall about the lack of dentists.

She looked at the data from 2011, the most recent on the KDHE’s website, and found that more than 20 counties in western Kansas don’t have a single dentist that accepts Medicaid.

Edith Tarango, with the Scott County Health Department, sees additional problems this causes.

“These are patients that have a medical card because they’re low-income and then they have to travel,” said Tarango. “It’s not exactly the best answer to fix that.”

“I don’t know what the solution is,” said Stasch. “The dentists are here, and they’re willing to work, but there’s not many businesses that are willing to work for no profit.”

The KDHE does have a list of what they call “safety net dental clinics” — clinics that would provide dental care at reduced costs, based on income.