When the state of Louisiana recently passed legislation to provide comprehensive adult dental benefits for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), it was cause for celebration.
“It made my heart go light,” said Leanna Gray, a DentaQuest outreach coordinator in Louisiana who worked on the task force that helped make the policy change happen.
As someone who worked with children with I/DD in behavioral services for years, Leanna is all too familiar with the significant unmet need statewide. It’s why she jumped at the opportunity to join the task force and why she was so moved when comprehensive dental benefits finally became a reality for adults with I/DD in Louisiana.
“One big thing that is going to make a huge difference for so many people is IV sedation,” Leanna said. “That has been a huge barrier to oral care for this population. There are a lot of non-verbal adults with I/DD who can't say they're in pain and could have serious issues in their mouths. For them to be able to get this care without having to pay thousands of dollars for sedation will be life changing.”
She didn’t pause to celebrate for long, though, before getting back to work.
“Expanding the benefit is fantastic — but that’s just the beginning. Now we must make sure families and caregivers know they can access that care, and that dental providers are trained and equipped to provide it.”
Since the benefit went into effect in Louisiana on July 1, 2022, the DentaQuest outreach team has been working hard to do just that. They are connecting with statewide I/DD groups like Families Helping Families and The Arc to spread the word, while also working with dental providers to understand and support their capacity to care for the special needs community. The team is also looking to support training programs for local dental schools to ensure that new dentists coming into the field understand how to care for patients with I/DD.
The benefits of expanding coverage and access are immense. Oral health is directly linked to overall health, and for individuals with I/DD who have higher barriers to accessing care, the impacts can be significant. It’s something DentaQuest’s case management team sees every day as they work with members with the highest level of need.
“Before, our team would have to think outside the box and look for community resources who could offer dental work. We were very limited in our ability and often jumped through hoops just to help people access basic care,” said Gonzalo Perez, Manager of Dental Case Management at DentaQuest. “Now, we will have a much bigger tool bag to assist this population.”
In addition to a bigger tool bag, the case management team is also bringing to Louisiana a wealth of experience in this area. Since 2019, the team has helped manage the care of more than 18,000 members with I/DD in Florida. According to Gonzalo, there are currently about 10-11,000 members enrolled in the Louisiana program.
“DentaQuest has the experience and the tools in place to coordinate care in this population,” said Gonzalo. “I believe that Louisiana has entrusted DentaQuest with this new benefit package so we can do what we do everywhere else — effectively manage oral health care.”
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