AmeriHealth Caritas Aims to Reduce Barriers to Oral Health Care for Individuals with Disabilities
Inclusive Dental initiative will utilize collaborations with providers, legislators and professional schools to develop strategies designed to improve access to quality care
AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in Medicaid managed care and other health care solutions for those most in need, announced the launch of Inclusive Dental, a program designed to address a growing concern around oral health care barriers for individuals with disabilities.
According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 million Americans — or one in four U.S. adults — have a disability that impacts major life activities.1 Physical or intellectual disabilities can often cause patients to be uncomfortable during dental visits, and many providers have expressed concerns around having adequate support to create a more accommodating environment for special needs patients, situations that can deter patients from seeking the care and treatment they need.
“We have been able to design a solid solution to a health care problem that we cannot ignore — our members foregoing dental care because it’s simply too hard,” said Paul Tufano, Chairman and CEO for AmeriHealth Caritas. “This program offers creative and compassionate approaches that address the challenges often caused by disabilities and eases the process of dental care for our members, their caregivers, and their providers.”
“Inclusive Dental is about making sure there is equitable oral health care for all and demonstrating that we can do something different to make things better for all of our members,” said Lawrence Paul, D.D.S., vice president of Corporate Dental for AmeriHealth Caritas. “We’re committed to raising awareness around the barriers to oral health care often encountered by individuals with disabilities and we’re excited to be working with a variety of stakeholders to develop ways to improve the delivery of service."
In addition to raising awareness around the oral health care barriers often encountered by individuals with disabilities, Inclusive Dental will develop resources and trainings designed to better support current providers as well as future dentists through partnerships with local professional schools. The program is starting in the company’s southeastern Pennsylvania market where partnerships with Temple University’s Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine are underway. The program will expand to other AmeriHealth Caritas markets in the future.
Poor oral health can negatively impact a person’s overall health and wellness. Research suggests that tooth decay and poor dental hygiene can be linked to diabetes, pancreatic cancer, and heart disease. In very rare cases, poor dental health can be deadly.
Often, patients with disabilities may require additional staff and other resources during dental treatment since they may be more prone to conditions that other patients do not have, such as behavior or mobility challenges, seizures, gastroesophageal reflux and visual or hearing impairments.2 A better understanding of how to offer the best care while working with patients facing these challenges is a major objective of Inclusive Dental, which will provide continuing education credits to providers and will work with dental schools to ensure that students are being taught how to properly engage with patients with disabilities.
The program’s leaders will also work with local, state and federal elected officials to advocate for policies to adequately address the oral health needs of individuals with disabilities as well as their caregivers, including loan forgiveness for dental school graduates who commit to serving people with disabilities.