A Personal Story: Can’t Find Affordable Local Dentist – Amy, Chelsea

Amy and her family moved to Vermont eight years ago, and had three children at the time. “We had private insurance, and it did not include dental. We did not qualify for state dental insurance. We were private-paying for all of our dental work.” Then Amy’s husband lost his job and they could no longer afford $1,500 a month for private health insurance. After this happened they qualified for Dr. Dynasaur for their children. Amy started looking for dentists and found one who took her children on as patients. They saw him for a year and then got a letter saying he no longer accepted Medicaid. Amy found it very difficult to find a new dentist who would take her children, but did eventually find one in the Upper Valley, and most recently she has made use of the mobile dental van that visits local schools. “I do feel like even though it’s difficult to find dental care for my children it’s doable: difficult but doable.”

“As an adult, on the other hand, it’s practically impossible.” Amy couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket for her own dental care, so when she qualified for Dr. Dynasaur during her last two pregnancies, she figured she’d use the coverage to address her own dental needs. “I needed two extractions over a four year period. For my initial visit, I had to travel to Plainfield [nearly an hour's drive] … and my first visit took four months to get in.” When Amy had some chronic pain that she needed addressed immediately, she called her former dentist who made an exception and saw her. “I basically begged and pleaded. He did take my Dr. Dynasaur and he was really nice, but it was really clear that it was the only time.”

“The other piece that’s hard for us right now is we have a fourteen year old who needs braces…. I took her to an orthodontist and he said, compared to what she needs, the Medicaid was not going to pay for a lot of it, because it’s partially a cosmetic thing…. I have this fourteen-year old, and she’s going into high school, and I can’t afford braces for her and she needs them.”

“The cost of private dental care is high–prohibitive for me–I am now a single mother. My children and myself, we are covered by state Medicaid. There’s nothing that’s covered for me for dental right now. I need a cleaning, I need dental work done, and I don’t know when I’m going to be able to have that taken care of.” Amy sees dental care accessibility as a nationwide problem that is particularly acute in Vermont. “At one point, when I was the most frustrated, I did call the VT Department of Dentists, and I did explain the situation, that I couldn’t find a provider for my children or for me that was within fifty miles. There was really no help on the other end, other than, ‘Oh well, bring more dentists to Vermont.’

Amy believes compensation for dentists from Medicaid is a big problem. “Obviously, they’re not getting it. And obviously they can’t afford [to treat patients on Medicaid]…. I would guess that more than fifty percent of their customers would come from Medicaid, and if they’re getting paid fifty percent of their costs, I don’t blame them. They can’t volunteer all their efforts. But at the same time, there’s lots of people that are going without.”

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