By Dana Yamashita

Dental care is an important part of a person’s overall health, whether a child or adult. Poor dental health can lead to a variety of chronic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. But for a variety of reasons, dental benefits are often not covered for adult Medicaid recipients.

One issue is difficulty finding dental providers who accept Medicaid. Medicaid usually pays as little as half of what a private insurance company might pay for the same procedure and often doesn’t cover enough dental services.

Research recently published in the Journal of Public Economics by Jason Huh, assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, found that Medicaid-induced financial incentives influence where providers choose to practice, potentially expanding access into previously underserved areas.

When Medicaid increases the types of dental procedures covered and the total amount a dentist can spend on a patient in an area, more dentists will locate to those areas. That, in turn, will increase adult Medicaid dental care access.

“This paper provides the first empirical evidence that Medicaid expansion can affect the location choices of providers,” Huh said. “Policy makers can use this information to devise alternate policies that can address provider shortage and geographic distribution imbalances, which have plagued the American health care system for decades.”

Huh found that expanding adult Medicaid dental benefits increased the number of dentists per capita in low-income counties by 13%.