The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced $67 million in Affordable Care Act funds to support America’s Community Health Centers. The awards include $19 million to establish 32 new health care delivery sites that are estimated to increase access to care to more than 130,000 additional people.
The funds also include $48 million in base grant adjustments—the first since 2009—for 1,200 health centers to support ongoing operations and quality improvement activities.
Greg Nycz, the Executive Director, Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc., in Marshfield, WI, today told a Senate panel that efforts to boost access to affordable dental services in his state through health centers have generated savings in health care costs and improved public health, but more needs to be done. Nycz was among a panel of health care experts who appeared before the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging hearing which focused on the lack of access to affordable oral health care, especially among low-income families. Nycz ‘s successful efforts to expand access to dental care among vulnerable populations in his state were highlighted during the hearing, which was carried live on C-SPAN.
Nycz told the panel that health centers are “pursuing an integrative medical/dental model that leaves no one behind… We are solving health care access problems one community at a time and we are in 9,000 communities, but the current demand for care is outpacing growth. Over 300 of us applied for funding to meet identified unmet dental needs in 2011. Unfortunately, as a result of a cut to planned health center funding no awards were made and there have been no opportunities to fund oral health expansions since then.”
Nycz cited several critical components that are required for the effective expansion of affordable dental care services. “First, success will require that we fundamentally work to change our nation’s perspective on the importance of oral health in its’ own right and the added value oral health brings to general health. Second, workforce matters. Over the next 20 years, Wisconsin may face 2.2 dentist retirements for each new dentist entering practice and new graduates need to be better prepared to face more elderly patients with multiple chronic conditions. Third, at the community level we are seeking to accomplish this by pursuing an integrative medical/dental model that leaves no one behind. This is the mission of all health centers.”
Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) noted during the hearing that soaring costs and inadequate insurance coverage have put dental care beyond the budgets of many working families. He also cited a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office which showed that Americans spent about $108 billion on dentists in 2011. Average annual dental payments, the total amount paid out of pocket by individuals and by other payers, have increased by 26 percent from $520 in 1996 to $653 in 2010.
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