Senate unanimously passes another bill to expand dental health care

A bipartisan bill that could make dental care more affordable to pregnant women and people with diabetes passed the Senate with 49-0 vote Wednesday.

If SB 5540 makes it through the House and becomes law, it will create a 3-year pilot program that increases the reimbursement rate for pregnant women and diabetics getting preventative dental health care.

Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, prime sponsor for the bill, issued a press release Thursday and said the bill could function as a cost-saving measure in the long run.

“Sometimes when we invest a little in prevention, we get a big return down the road,” Walsh said in a statement. “Not only will this bill improve the lives of those at highest risk for oral health problems, we may be able to avoid some of the costs we incur when dental disease becomes catastrophic.”

According to the release, just about 22 percent of adults eligible for Medicaid dental coverage were able to use it. The bill would create a program called Oral Health Connections overseen by the Washington Health Care Authority and the Washington Dental Services Foundation.

The bill focuses on pregnant women and people with diabetes because those groups are at higher risk for dental-related health issues. According to the release, studies show that cost savings increase when those groups get preventative dental health care treatment.

Dental health care doesn’t always get the attention that might be warranted, considering it’s such a fundamental part of health care. But the first bill to pass the legislature this session was also related to dental health care.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed that bill into law in late February that could improve dental health care on reservations by allowing dental therapists to receive federal funds. That bill also got unanimous support in the Senate, and it ultimately passed in the House with strong footing: an 80-18 vote.

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

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