Wilson Raises Concerns about Access to Dental Care for Children
Speaking today in a hearing of the Subcommittee on Health of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Congresswoman Heather Wilson said more needs to be done to ensure children in New Mexico have access to dental care.
"New Mexico has a serious problem with access to oral health care for the whole population, but this is particularly troublesome for children," Wilson said. "I was surprised to learn this week that New Mexico Medicaid does not currently have a person dedicated to oral health issues. We need a state and federal commitment to improving oral health, particularly in Medicaid."
"I believe we need to get serious about improving access to oral health for kids in New Mexico, and we need to make sure our children get the dental care they need," she continued. "We must find a way to improve access to dental care for rural and underserved populations in New Mexico, and we must start with children."
The problem is most severe in low-income uninsured populations, rural and frontier communities, and on tribal land. Sixty-four percent of all third graders in the state experience tooth decay, 34 percent have untreated tooth decay, and 43 percent have received dental sealants.
Part of the concern is the fact that New Mexico ranks 49th among the states in dentists per capita, with a similar shortage of dental hygienists.
About 21 percent of the population is eligible for Medicaid, including 60 percent of children in the State. Many dentists don't accept Medicaid patients because of low reimbursement rates and the bureaucratic hassle. A 2000 survey found some counties don't have a dentist at all, and in the largest county, Bernalillo, only 27 percent of the 324 dentists in the county served Medicaid patients. Medicaid patients account for only 1% of the gross revenue of dentists in private practice in the state.
While New Mexico has a School of Medicine, a Pharmacy School, and a Nursing School, the state does not have a Dentistry School. UNM just in 2004 started a dental residency program with five positions annually to encourage young dentists to come to NM and stay to practice.
Children's Health issues are an ongoing priority. Last month, Wilson introduced House legislation to protect New Mexico's share of federal funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides access to health care for thousands of children in lower-income families.
She also coauthored a letter, sent February 1 to the Budget Committee, calls for reauthorization and full funding of this important program.
"Children's health care is a priority for all of us. We should start with the kids," Wilson said.