News Release

Health Department of Northwest Michigan
serving Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties
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First death in Michigan resulting from cuts to Adult Dental Medicaid Benefit
Mentally impaired woman unable to pay out-of-pocket for treatment that would have saved her life

(October 14, 2009) A woman with severe mental impairment died in northern Michigan this week from a dental infection that was left untreated because she lost virtually all oral health insurance coverage when the Adult Dental Medicaid Benefit was eliminated by Executive Order and was not restored in the new State budget. As of July 1, only emergency treatment for dental extraction is covered for people who qualify for the Adult Dental Medicaid Benefit.

The Adult Dental Medicaid Benefit covers people with developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, blindness, and pregnant women and older adults with very low incomes.

The woman, who required hospitalization to remove her infected teeth due to her disabilities, was scheduled for surgery late in June, before the cuts to the Adult Dental Medicaid Benefit were to take effect on July 1, 2009. The day her surgery was scheduled, doctors recommended postponing the procedure until she recovered from a minor illness. By then, she no longer had Medicaid coverage for the surgery.

Dental Clinics North dentists planned to donate their services for surgery, but the Medicaid program determined it would not cover $5,000 needed for hospital costs.

"We developed a very effective and efficient system of care to provide needed oral health services to vulnerable people from northern Michigan," said Gerald Chase, Health Officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, which organized the first Dental Clinics North locations in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. "With cuts to the adult dental benefit, that system is disappearing. I think we owe the most vulnerable members of society more."

"This woman had a chronic dental infection that ultimately killed her. If the infection had been but a dental infection, Medicaid would have paid for treatment, including hospitalization," said Thomas Veryser, Executive Director of Dental Clinics North. "We predicted cuts to the Adult Dental Medicaid Benefit would cost lives and now it has."