Preserving adult dental, funding for health equity programs top legislative priorities - Oral Health Watch

Oral Health Watch firmly believes that oral health is health and that dental coverage is health coverage. That is why we continue to work with partners and health advocates to champion programs that promote oral health care access and reduce dental health disparities. As Washington lawmakers continue with the first-ever 105-day virtual legislative session, OHW would like to share some of its legislative priorities.

Retaining the Apple Health adult dental program: Oral Health Watch is urging state lawmakers to preserve the Apple Health adult dental program. This program provides comprehensive dental care coverage for more than a million Washington lower income residents and is an investment that can help prevent oral disease and keep small dental problems from getting worse.

Gov. Jay Inslee included the Apple Health adult dental program in his proposed budget because he recognized the important role good oral health plays in maintaining health and general wellbeing. Now, it is up to the Legislature to safeguard this essential program and ensure it remains.

Implement expansion of the Access to Baby & Child Dentistry (ABCD) program for kids with disabilities: In 2020, the legislature unanimously passed and the Governor signed SB 5976, which expanded ABCD eligibility for children with disabilities up to age 13. ABCD is a nationally recognized program and public/private partnership that has more than doubled access to dental care for Medicaid-insured kids from infancy up to age 5 over the last 20 years. SB 5976 was funded in the supplemental budget, but implementation was put on hold immediately following session.

Authorizing the implementation of ABCD expansion for kids with disabilities in the 2021-2023 operating budget would build on a successful program and increase access to care.

Implement increased ABCD local program capacity and address equity: In 2020, the legislature unanimously passed and the Governor signed HB 2905, which increased the capacity of local ABCD programs to reduce racial and ethnic oral health care disparities, and increase the percentage of Medicaid-insured children under the age of 2 accessing dental care.

The Health Care Authority (HCA) was directed to coordinate with the Office of Equity to determine goals and deliverables. HB 2905 was funded in the supplemental budget, but implementation was put on hold immediately following session.

Providing funding in the 2021-2023 operating budget would help promote equity by expanding the reach of the ABCD program.

Continue the Oral Health Connections (OHC) pilot: Oral Health Connections is a pilot program modeled after ABCD, and operating in three counties: Spokane, Thurston and Cowlitz. Through OHC, Medicaid enrollees who are pregnant or have diabetes are eligible for an enhanced dental benefit. Untreated oral disease has been linked to diabetes and pregnancy complications. The OHC pilot examines whether an enhanced Medicaid dental benefit can increase access to care and improve health outcomes.

To date, more than 200 dental providers have been trained, and momentum was increasing until the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted dental offices and access to care. Extending the timeline would allow for a more accurate picture of the pilot’s efficacy in increasing access and improving health outcomes.

Implement a DentistLink public/private partnership: DentistLink is a free referral service that connects dental patients across the state with dental providers, helping them get the care they need. DentistLink works with all people regardless of their insurance coverage, but most have Medicaid or are uninsured. With additional investment, DentistLink can recruit more providers into the network and serve more people, helping to connect them to the dental care they need to stay healthy.

The 2020 supplemental operating budget included funding to establish a public/private partnership and scale up DentistLink to reach more patients. Due to the pandemic, these funds were not released.

Solely funded by Arcora Foundation at this time, this service is provided at no cost to users, community partners, or providers. In 2020, DentistLink served over 18,500 users including over 5,800 who needed to access emergency care during the COVID-19-related dental office closures. The pandemic has only exacerbated access barriers for patients and created new challenges for providers.

OHW invites you to join it in its mission of removing barriers to dental care access. Please use the Oral Health Watch legislative outreach tool to call or email lawmakers and remind them that investments in dental health are both wise health policy and the right thing to do. And please continue to visit Oral Health Watch to get legislative updates.


Arcora Foundation
400 Fairview Avenue North, Suite 800
Seattle, WA 98109
Oral Health Watch does not provide dental care and cannot provide direct referrals. To find dental care in your area, please visit our resources page. Please contact Oral Health Watch for more information about our programs and oral health in Washington State