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Medicaid Dental Coverage Debated In Senate

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Wading into a long-running debate, a Senate committee Monday approved a bill that could lead to changes in how dental services are provided in the Medicaid program.

Under current law, dental services are provided as part of the Medicaid managed-care system, which requires most beneficiaries to enroll in HMOs or other types of health plans across the state.

But the Senate Health Policy Committee voted 8-1 on Monday to approve a bill (SB 994) that could eventually lead to dental services being removed from the Medicaid managed-care plans and provided separately. Under the bill, sponsored by incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the state Agency for Health Care Administration would have to submit a report to the Legislature by Dec. 1 that would look at issues such as the effectiveness of managed-care plans in providing dental services.

The Legislature would be able to consider during the 2017 legislative session whether to keep the current dental system or move to an alternative. If the Legislature does not act by July 1, 2017, AHCA would be directed to move to a new system that would use other dental-plan providers.

The Legislature has seen other proposals in recent years to change the dental system.

Audrey Brown, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Association of Health Plans, said her group is not opposed to a study of the effectiveness of dental care under the current system and that more children are receiving dental services under managed care than in the past.

But Brown said the association is concerned that the "way the legislation is drafted, no matter what a study shows … the results don't seem to matter." That is because the system would automatically be changed if the Legislature does not act next year.

Negron said preliminary data indicates that more children would get dental services under a separate system, though he said lawmakers would have more information next year that would help make a decision.

"I'd rather be on the cutting edge of providing dental care to children rather than simply re-upping on another contract,'' he said.