AUGUSTA — The Mills Administration announced it is expanding MaineCare dental coverage for adults and increasing reimbursement rates for dental providers Friday, July 1, representing an estimated $45 million investment in oral health, according to a news release.

Gov. Mills proposed the expansion of adult dental benefits in the 2022-2023 Biennial Budget following the Health and Human Services Committee’s unanimous support of Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau’s bill, LD 996, “An Act To Improve Dental Health Access for Maine Children and Adults with Low Incomes.” Friday’s launch of the new benefit follows almost a year of work by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) alongside dental providers and other state oral health leaders to develop rules to implement the law.

The release states MaineCare members aged 21 or older will be automatically enrolled in the new dental benefit July 1. This coverage is expected to ultimately benefit more than 217,000 Maine people, as members begin to seek care over time and as DHHS continues to encourage and assist dental providers to increase the number of MaineCare members they serve, as part of a broad effort to increase access, particularly in rural areas.

The benefit covers a comprehensive array of dental services, from cleanings and fillings to root canals, dentures, and other critical oral health services. Previously, coverage for adults was limited to emergency situations, such as tooth extractions. MaineCare has and continues to provide comprehensive dental coverage for children.

The updated dental rates represent a significant investment in providers who serve both adults and children covered by MaineCare. The bulk of the increase supports rates for diagnostic and preventive services, which will see an average increase of 70%, as early investment in these types of services can reduce future costs of oral health care.

Together, the coverage expansion and rate initiatives represent an estimated $45 million investment in oral health, more than doubling MaineCare’s current investment.

“Dental health is an important part of overall health,” said Gov. Mills. “Providing preventive and routine dental care will not only improve the health and wellness of hundreds of thousands of Maine people, but it will also save money in the long-run by preventing the need for expensive emergency care. I am glad to have worked with the Legislature to expand dental care for Maine people.”

“With MaineCare covering one in four people in Maine, this new dental coverage combined with higher reimbursement rates will benefit hundreds of thousands of Maine people,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said. “Oral health is critical to general health and to participating in the community and the workforce. We’re grateful to the governor, Speaker Fecteau and the Legislature, and our partners throughout the state for making this important benefit a reality.”

“This is just one way that lawmakers have worked to expand access to health care in Maine,” Fecteau, of Biddeford, said. “Our previous system had forced people to use the emergency room when their teeth reached the point of no return, which was costing folks their dignity and health. The stories I heard were simply heartbreaking. As of today, the Mainers who were willing to share their stories have helped change the face of health care in our state. This was an effort led by Maine people and I am so proud that it received bipartisan support in the Legislature.”

The design of the new dental benefit is the product of collaboration involving the department, dental providers, dental advocates and other oral health leaders. Between August 2021 and May 2022, the department engaged stakeholders and the MaineCare Advisory Committee, convening 11 working sessions to work through the details of the new coverage. The department also hosted two broad stakeholder forums to gather input from the larger dental community and the public.

As a result of this process, the department is adopting an emergency rule that includes the expanded benefit and new dental reimbursement rates that go into effect July 1. The department will propose a permanent rule in July.

The department will continue working with stakeholders over the summer and beyond on outreach to dental providers statewide to advise them of these improvements and opportunities to serve lower-income Maine people.