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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

The CHI Weekly Legislative Update: May 4, 2012

It’s fitting that the last bill passed by the House Health and Environment Committee embodies one of the prevailing themes of this legislative session: improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government.  SB 12-108, sponsored by Senator Jeanne Nicholson (D) and Representative Ken Summers (R), aims to improve the cost effectiveness of oral health services for children by providing oral health services to their mothers before the children are born.

Wait, how does that work? 

The fundamental reason is that the bacteria that cause tooth decay are transmitted by family members and caregivers.  A mother with dental decay who shares a spoon with a young child transmits the bacteria and increases the likelihood that the child will develop cavities. Providing oral health services to pregnant mothers will improve the health of the mother and enable her to learn to care for her own and her child’s oral health.

In Colorado, more than one quarter of children between the ages of two and five have tooth decay.  Left untreated, childhood cavities can impair a child’s ability to eat, grow and thrive in school.  Cavities are preventable and expensive; in fiscal year 2008-2009, it cost an average of $545 to  treat 2-year-olds to 4-year-olds.

Bill sponsors and advocates indicated another important reason to provide oral health services to pregnant women. Initial research shows that pregnant women who receive dental services have lower numbers of preterm deliveries and babies with low-birth rates.

SB 12-108 would provide preventive and restorative dental benefits to pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid as soon as March 1, 2013.  Although the Medicaid program currently provides dental benefits for children and young adults up to the age of 21, only emergency dental services are provided to adults over 21.  

The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing estimates that 16,539 pregnant women will be eligible for the Medicaid oral health services in fiscal year 2012-2013.  Last year, there were 17,155 births, including 695 pre-term births and 2,203 low-birth weight deliveries.  (The actual births are higher than the number of pregnant women because of multiple births and women who just come in for deliveries.)  Policymakers expect there will be a ten percent reduction of low-birth weight babies born to women who receive oral health services during pregnancy in the Medicaid program.

The committee voted unanimously for SB 12-108.  As Representative Summers said in his closing arguments for the legislation, “This bill allows legislators to be strategic and to intervene with (preventive) care in early stages to prevent dental caries and required treatment.”