Bill would increase funding for dental health

The state’s seven federally-qualified community health centers would receive funding to address unmet dental health needs under a bill heard March 17 by the Appropriations Committee.

LB82, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, would appropriate $150,000 in general funds in fiscal year 2015-16 and FY2016-17 to each of the seven community health centers. Cook said the need for dental care among low-income Nebraskans is growing, especially among children.

“Throughout Nebraska there is a severe lack of access to both preventative and acute dental care for low-income Nebraskans,” she said.

Addressing this unmet need would decrease costs to the state and increase the quality of life for families that currently do not have a dental home, Cook said.

Kenny McMorris, CEO of Charles Drew Health Center in Omaha, testified in favor of the bill. The funding would allow his center to serve approximately 1,400 additional patients each year, he said, which would help shorten long wait times and improve dental health.

“We have reached the limit of what we can accomplish without a steady source of revenue,” McMorris said.

David O’Doherty of the Nebraska Dental Association also testified in support, saying disparities in access to dental care are well documented. Preventive dental care saves the state money in the long term, he said.

Only one in five adults can afford routine dental care, O’Doherty said, and only 35 percent of working-age adults visited a dentist in 2012.

“The oral health problems of low-income Nebraskans do not disappear,” O’Doherty said. “They go somewhere else.”

No opposition testimony was given and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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