Inequities in dental care are prevalent across the United States, with significant disparities based on age, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Economic factors, such as ability to pay for dental insurance, and social factors such as food insecurity and access to nutritious food options also play a large role in oral health outcomes.
In Michigan, state Medicaid medical and dental managed care contracts now include requirements to address social determinants of health (SDOH) among enrollees. Examples of these requirements include:
- Incorporating oral health into community health workers’ training curriculum;
- Collaborating with community-based organizations (CBOs);
- Collecting data on enrollees’ SDOH and using it to target outreach and educational activities; and
- Implementing quality assurance and improvement projects that promote equitable access to oral health care.
Michigan’s Medicaid medical and dental managed care contracts demonstrate a proactive approach to identifying and addressing SDOH among Medicaid enrollees. While budget shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic may make it more difficult for states to take on additional initiatives, addressing SDOH in Medicaid contracts can decrease costs and improve oral health outcomes. States that want to encourage dental plans to take on a larger role in promoting equitable access to care and addressing SDOH could adopt initiatives similar to Michigan’s.
These types of Medicaid contractual requirements are important first steps in improving SDOH among enrollees, while strengthening monitoring and enforcement requirements are also critical tools when adequate funding and personnel are available.
Why Focus on Oral Health and SDOH?
SDOH are the conditions in the places where individuals live, learn, and work that may affect their health risks and outcomes. They include factors such as food access, housing stability, educational attainment, poverty, health literacy, and transportation, among others. Social determinants dictate an individual’s access to health care and quality of care, which directly affect physical and oral health and exacerbate health disparities. For example:
- Low-income children are twice as likely to have dental caries (tooth decay) than children from higher-income homes; and
- Individuals who are poor or have less than a high school education have edentulism (toothlessness) at a rate three-times higher than those with higher incomes or more education.
Increasingly, Medicaid medical and dental managed care organizations are implementing initiatives designed to address SDOH among their members in order to improve oral health and promote health equity.
While all states cover dental care for Medicaid-enrolled children under age 21 as part of the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit, adult dental coverage is optional for state Medicaid programs. Currently, 35 states provide limited dental benefits for adults and 19 states offer extensive adult dental benefits. However, optional adult benefits, such as dental care, may be affected by state efforts to meet continued budget challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Dental disease, though, not only adversely affects oral health but is also associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and low birth weight and preterm births. Preventive dental care has the potential to improve overall health and well-being and reduce costs.
How Michigan Addresses Oral Health and SDOH
In NASHP’s recent 50-state scan of Medicaid managed care medical and dental contracts, Michigan was one of only three states (out of 19 reviewed) to consistently and directly reference SDOH in their Medicaid dental plan contracts.* Additionally, Michigan’s Medicaid medical managed care organization (MCO) contract includes detailed requirements for addressing SDOH, many of which align with the dental plan’s language and promotes coordination between physical and oral health care. While written contractual requirements do not guarantee that medical and dental plans are actively engaged in implementing SDOH-related initiatives – especially in the absence of funding to monitor these programs – Michigan’s contracts offer valuable examples of potential ways to address SDOH that other states could adopt as a first step.
Michigan Delivery System Overview
Michigan Medicaid uses a managed care system to deliver medical and dental care, and the Medicaid dental benefit is carved out and administered by various dental plans contracted by the state. Michigan Medicaid covers limited dental services for adults, including dental check-ups, teeth cleaning, X-rays, fillings, tooth extractions, and dentures. Additionally, the state offers an enhanced dental benefit for Medicaid-eligible pregnant women that includes emergency dental treatment and some oral surgeries. Michigan also administers the Healthy Kids Dental program, which covers comprehensive oral health care for children under age 21 enrolled in Medicaid.
Dental Contract Language
Michigan stands out because of the state’s frequent and direct mentions of SDOH throughout its Healthy Kids Dental (HKD) model contract. The HKD contract reflects a broad range of required initiatives related to SDOH, including:
- Collaboration with community organizations;
- Data use to target interventions and assess population-wide social needs, and
- Implementation of quality assurance and improvement projects that reduce barriers to oral health care.
Collaboration with Community Organizations
One way dental plans can help address SDOH-related needs is by working with community-based organizations (CBOs). CBOs play an important role in connecting individuals to social services and helping people access health-related social needs, such as healthy food, transportation services, and educational materials that promote health literacy.
Michigan requires dental plans administering the HKD program to “collaborate with community-based organizations to facilitate the provision of enrollee oral health education services to ensure the entire spectrum of social determinants of oral health are addressed, e.g., housing, healthy diet and physical activity.” Michigan also encourages contractors to “build relationships with community partners that will engage in integrated care and promote good oral health practices.”
Through dynamic and active partnerships with CBOs, dental plans can more easily refer individuals to social and community services to help address members’ needs. Additionally, these partnerships with CBOs allow the state to expand its reach to more Medicaid-eligible children through educational initiatives.
Dental plans can also encourage members to work with CBOs and other public health programs by implementing their own educational programs. Michigan lists community-based public health resources on its website, and requires dental plan contractors to institute educational, public relations, and social media programs to increase awareness of available resources, such as CBOs, that can help reduce the impact of social determinants of oral health.
Data Collection, Tracking, and Reporting
While coordinating with social and community resources is an important step in improving health equity, having strong mechanisms in place to collect and track community data is critical to ensure social determinants are addressed. Michigan stands out in its commitment to require that medical and dental plans collect SDOH-related data.
Michigan requires HKD contractors to collect data on SDOH and utilize enrollment files, claims, encounter data, and utilization management data to improve community collaboration and address oral health disparities. The state specifies that the dental plan must “use social determinants of oral health data provided by [the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] to analyze member-level data to direct the contractor’s efforts of targeted interventions, outreach, enrollee education and health promotion.” Additionally, the dental plan must report on the effectiveness of its population health management programs, including measures identifying the number of enrollees experiencing a “disparate level of social needs,” such as limited transportation access and housing instability.
Michigan’s data utilization requirements range from addressing individuals’ health-related needs to analyzing population-wide equity issues. Plans are required to gather and utilize this information for finetuning their services, such as care management and referrals. However, given that requirements for health plans to collect SDOH-related data are fairly new, and the state has little funding available for this work, the state’s role in monitoring whether data collection is occurring is currently limited. With adequate funding and personnel, states can take a more active role in tracking and data analysis to better understand the social needs of the population and effectively target SDOH-related interventions.
Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement
Michigan is committed to not only reporting on the effectiveness of SDOH-related initiatives, but also working to improve existing systems to better address inequities in oral health. The HKD contract requires the dental plan to have a Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement (QAPI) plan that includes a description of how the contractor will, “develop system interventions to address the underlying factors of disparate utilization, health-related behaviors, and oral health outcomes, including, but not limited to, how they relate to utilization of dental emergency services,” and “ensure the equitable distribution of dental services to contractor’s entire population, including members of racial/ethnic minorities, those whose primary language is not English, those in rural areas, and those with disabilities.”
SDOH can contribute to variances in utilization of dental services and poor oral health outcomes, with factors such as geographic location and language proficiency playing an important role in driving health care access. In addition to using data to better understand the impact of social factors on members’ oral health and population utilization trends, Michigan requires contractors to continue to find new ways to reach all populations and reduce the effects of SDOH on oral health outcomes.
Medical Contract Language
Much of the language related to SDOH included in the Healthy Kids Dental contract is consistent with the language in Michigan’s Medicaid medical MCO contract, which covers adults and children. Both the HKD and MCO contracts require the plan to collaborate with CBOs to provide physical and oral health education and address SDOH, implement community education campaigns to improve public knowledge of community-based resources, report on the effectiveness of SDOH-related population health management initiatives, and promote equitable access to care using Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement (QAPI) projects.
However, the medical contract also offers additional opportunities for investment in SDOH that states could consider implementing in dental contracts. For example, Michigan requires medical MCO contractors to participate in the Medicaid Health Equity Project, which is a statewide effort to address racial and ethnic disparities. Through this project, Medicaid health plans collect and report on data across multiple quality measures, including access to preventive and ambulatory health services. The state then uses data stratification by race and ethnicity to determine how racial and ethnic discrimination affect each quality measure, with the goal of addressing any disparities.
Additionally, the medical contract requires health plans to enter into agreements with CBOs to coordinate “population health improvement strategies,” which address social determinants such as physical environment and socioeconomic status. These agreements with CBOs must include information on data sharing, each partner’s role in care coordination, reporting requirements, and plans for coordinating service delivery with primary care providers.
What are Key Considerations and Next Steps?
Addressing SDOH is critical to improving oral health, overall health, and health equity. Increasingly, Medicaid dental plans across the country are collecting data on community needs and implementing initiatives to reduce barriers to oral health care. In a recent 50-state scan of Medicaid managed care contracts, NASHP found that out of 19 dental contracts and 38 medical contracts reviewed nationally, 13 and 37, respectively, require the plan to coordinate with community services. Efforts to address SDOH are also underway, though they tend to be further along on the medical side than the dental side. This provides an opportunity for states to apply medical contracts’ language in their dental contracts, or work with health plans to link existing SDOH-related programs with the dental system.
In response to budget shortfalls resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan’s Medicaid program now faces potential rate changes, particularly for dental payments. However, program staff report they see opportunities to establish shared performance metrics between Medicaid MCOs and dental plans in the future. The state is considering ways to standardize and refine SDOH-related data collection and analysis, especially related to dental care. Michigan health officials noted the necessity of first ensuring data was valid and reliable before using it to drive decisions or implement capitation withhold incentive programs. The state is also discussing leveraging Michigan’s health information exchange to transmit standardized SDOH screening information to plans and providers.
Through the Healthy Kids Dental and Medical MCO contract, Michigan has demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing social determinants of oral health. The contracts present an opportunity for states to adopt similar language in order to encourage dental plans to coordinate with CBOs, effectively collect and use SDOH-related data, and implement performance improvement projects aimed at reducing disparities.
* NASHP scanned Michigan’s Healthy Kids Dental model contract and the Michigan Medicaid Medical MCO sample contract.
Acknowledgements: This fact sheet was made possible by the DentaQuest Partnership LLC. The author would like to especially thank Trenae Simpson for her guidance and assistance, and state officials in Michigan for their helpful feedback. The information, content, and conclusions are those of the author’s and should not be construed as the official position or policy of the DentaQuest Partnership LLC.