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(The Center Square) – New Hampshire is one of a few states that doesn’t provide preventive dental care for Medicaid recipients, but that could change under a proposal to expand coverage.

Legislation unanimously approved by the state Senate with bipartisan support would expand Medicaid benefits to provide dental coverage to an estimated 100,000 low-income health-care consumers who don’t currently have coverage. The state’s low-income Medicaid program, by law, only provides emergency dental services for adults.

The House of Representatives approved a similar version of the bill last month on a 237-100 vote, and the Senate’s Health Care and Human Services Committee recommended its passage.

Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the changes, if approved, would have a “direct positive impact on people’s lives” by improving oral health.

“Dental care is a kind of health care they have not been able to access because of the prohibitive costs,” Rosenwald said in remarks ahead of Thursday’s approval of the bill.

During committee hearings on the bill last year, dental health experts testified that poor oral health has been linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Low-income residents who lack dental coverage often end up in emergency rooms for tooth extractions and other care because they neglect their oral health, experts told lawmakers.

Six out of 10 adults who lacked Medicaid dental benefits felt that their bad teeth would cost them employment, according to a recent survey by the American Dental Association.

New Hampshire lawmakers have considered similar proposals to join 35 other states in expanding Medicaid dental coverage, but they have been scuttled amid cost concerns.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed similar legislation in July 2020, citing concerns about the price tag for expanding dental coverage as the COVID-19 outbreak was beginning to spread. Sununu has since expressed support for the changes.

A fiscal note attached to the proposal estimates that expanding the coverage will cost the state $1.7 million in the current fiscal year, and $6.9 million to $11 million a year beginning in fiscal year 2024, depending on what type of dental services are covered. The federal Medicaid program would see its costs increase by $17.4 million beginning in FY24, according to the note.

Money to expand the dental benefits would come from a $21 million court settlement earlier this year between the state and a private company to resolve claims of Medicaid overpricing.

The measure now moves to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration, before heading back to the full House and Senate for a round of final votes.

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