Will work for dental care. Not a bad idea

There’s a big gap in coverage for dental care. It’s not considered part of core health care benefits and so many people –even those with commercial health insurance or Medicaid– lack coverage. The Affordable Care Act addresses only a small part of the gap. That’s a problem because dental health is a key component of overall health care and not something that should be optional.

That’s why I like the looks of an innovative program in Calhoun County, Michigan where uninsured patients can earn credit for dental visits by doing volunteer work such as working in a food bank. Dentists generally volunteer their time and I can understand why:

Kip Etheridge, a dentist who sees patients from the program in his office a few hours a month, said the volunteer work makes [patients] more vested in their care and reduces the number of people who don’t show up for the program’s dental appointments.

“It’s not free care, they work for it and that aspect is what has encouraged dentists to participate,” Etheridge said.

The program rewards volunteers with $100 in dental care per four hours of work. Patients must also go to an oral health class and see a hygienist (paid for by local fundraising) first. Visits to the local emergency room for dental problems have dropped dramatically since the program went into effect.

This is a very nice example of what can be achieved at the local level when people of goodwill collaborate in a pragmatic, creative and non-ideological way. Already the program is being expanded to include chiropractic care and orthodontics.

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By David E. Williams of the Health Business Group.

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