Category Archives: Access and barriers to care
Monique Trice, 24, is a University of Louisville School of Dentistry student who will complete her studies in 2015. Trice completed the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) in 2008 at the University of Louisville site. Started in 1988, SMDEP (formerly known as the Minority Medical Education Program and Summer Medical and Education Program), is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation–sponsored program with more than 21,000 alumni. Today, SMDEP sponsors 12 sites, with each accepting up to 80 students per summer session. This is part of a series of posts looking at diversity in the health care workforce.
Diversity is more than ethnicity. It also includes geography, perspective, and more. I was raised in Enterprise, Ala., which is in Coffee County. The community’s demographic and geographic makeup set the stage for an oral health care crisis. Here’s how:
- Enterprise is a community of 27,000 and just 15 licensed general dentists, three Medicaid dental providers, and zero licensed pediatric dentists to service Coffee County, a population of 51,000. In 2011, Alabama’s Office of Primary Care and Rural Health reported that 65 of the state’s 67 counties were designated as dental health shortage areas for low-income populations.
- According to this data, more than 260 additional dentists would be needed to bridge gaps and fully meet the need. For some residents, time, resources, and distance figure into the equation, putting dental care out of reach. In some rural communities, an hour’s drive is required to access dental services.
- Lack of affordable public transportation creates often-insurmountable barriers to accessing dental care.
Growing up in a single-parent household, my siblings and I experienced gaps in dental care. Fortunately, we never suffered from an untreated cavity from poor oral health care, but many low-income, underserved children and adults are not so lucky.
Liana Orsolini-Hain, PhD, RN, ANEF,FAAN, is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellows program (20112012), through which she worked at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Immediate Office of the Secretary. This post is part of the "Health Care in 2013" series.
My New Year’s resolution for the U.S. health system involves all of us. During my tenure as an RWJF Health Policy Fellow in the Immediate Office of the Secretary of Health, I learned how a small percentage of Americans use up a majority of health care resources. The percentage of individuals who consume a high volume of resources will likely increase as we age, with little regard for our own level of health.
We all need to be a part of the solution to making access to health care and access to health sustainable for current and future generations by caring about and for our own health. Do we exercise regularly? Do we get enough sleep? Do we eat fruits and vegetables every day? Have we stopped smoking? Do we manage our stress levels? Do we practice what we preach?
Eileene Shake, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, is CEO of the Foundation for Nursing Excellence. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Blog asked scholars and experts to consider what the election results will mean for health and health care in the United States.
The 2012 election is over and now, as health care leaders, we are trying to figure out how to move forward with implementing the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA). Yes, there will be an influx of Americans entering the health care system who did not have access to health care in the past. The impact on nursing will be significant as nurses are being recognized as important to providing care to the large number of new patients entering the system. Nurses will be key players working on interdisciplinary teams to redesign how health care is delivered. Nurses and advanced practice nurses will need to practice to the full extent of their education in order to care for the increased number of citizens entering the health care system.
There will be less resistance to implementing the ACA and more emphasis will be placed on how to implement it. Hospitals are already putting processes in place to reduce readmission rates for patients with chronic disease. New programs are being implemented to manage health care after the patient is discharged to reduce readmission rates. Nurses are following up with patients to ensure they are taking their medications, checking their blood pressure, and following their therapeutic diets. It is important to note that there will still be some resistance to implementing the ACA from states that do not feel they can afford to pay for the health care program.
Tiffany D. Joseph, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Scholar in Health Policy Research at Harvard University (2011-2013). This post is part of a series in which RWJF scholars, fellows and alumni who are attending the American Public Health Association annual meeting reflect on the experience.
It was incredibly exciting to attend the American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting for the first time! As a sociologist and current RWJF Health Policy Research Scholar, I am thrilled to be at a multidisciplinary conference with an explicit focus on all aspects of health: outcomes, disparities, coverage, service utilization. You name it, there is a session for it.
The opening was especially motivating and inspiring as Dr. Reed Tuckson and Gail Sheehy provided insightful talks on the relevance of preventive health throughout the life course and how public health professionals must continue to work to improve access to, and quality of, health care for a U.S. population that is increasingly racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse.
U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi also stopped by, unannounced, to welcome the APHA to San Francisco and thank its members for their steadfast commitment to, and support for, passage and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA). Needless to say, everyone in attendance was thrilled and excited by her surprise visit and warm words.
In the next one to three years, more than half of the nation’s physicians plan to retire, cut back on the number of patients they see, work reduced hours or take other steps that would reduce patient access to care, a survey from The Physicians Foundation finds. According to A Survey of America’s Physicians, which polled more than 13,000 physicians, a continuation of this trend could mean the loss of 44,250 physicians from the workforce in the next four years.
The survey finds that physicians are seeing fewer patients per day than they did in 2008, and 26 percent of physicians have closed their practices to Medicaid patients. Fifty-two percent have already or are planning to limit Medicare patient access to their practices.
More than three-quarters (77.4 percent) of the physicians surveyed are somewhat or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession, and more than 84 percent agree that “the medical profession is in decline.” However, younger physicians, female physicians, employed physicians (as compared to those who own practices) and primary care physicians are generally more positive about their profession.
“The survey was conducted in the context of one of the most transformative eras in the history of modern healthcare,” the introduction to the study notes. “Physicians are at the vortex of these changes… It is a challenging and uncertain time to be a doctor. The results of the survey reflect this uncertainty and should be taken in the context of current events. As the course of healthcare reform becomes clearer, attitudes and perspectives may change. However, we believe the survey reveals what doctors are thinking today and is relevant to healthcare professionals, policy makers, media members, and to anyone who has been seen by a physician or who will be.”
Former Health & Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, MD, penned an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times making the case for devising more effective ways to deliver dental care to poor or rural communities across the nation.
The Secretary notes that, in 2009, 83,000 emergency room visits resulted from preventable dental problems. “In my state of Georgia,” he writes, “visits to the ER for oral health problems cost more than $23 million in 2007. According to more recent data from Florida, the bill exceeded $88 million. And dental disease is the No. 1 chronic childhood disease, sending more children in search of medical treatment than asthma. In a nation obsessed with high-tech medicine, people are not getting preventive care for something as simple as tooth decay.”
He goes on to list several reasons: 50 million of us live in poor or rural areas without a dentist; most dentists do not accept Medicaid; and we have a dentist shortage that will only be exacerbated when 5.3 million children are added to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by way of the Affordable Care Act.
Sullivan argues that the federal government should put programs in place to train more dentists. But more than that, he argues for training dental therapists “who can provide preventive care and routine procedures like sealants, fillings and simple extractions outside the confines of a traditional dentist’s office.” He says such an approach has been particularly effective in Alaska, where the state has recruited and trained dental therapists to serve many of that state’s most remote communities, including many that are accessible only by plane, dogsled or snowmobile.
A recently announced effort by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) takes aim at the very same problem. The Oral Health Workforce initiative is designed to improve access to oral health care by identifying and studying replicable models that make the best use of the health and health care workforce to provide preventive oral health services.
By David Krol, MD, MPH, FAAP, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Portfolio Team Director and Senior Program Officer
For many Americans, a visit to the dentist is a rarity—not by choice, but because their health plans don’t cover dental care, they can’t afford it, or because there is no dentist anywhere near where they live or work. If you’re on Medicare, you know that dental isn’t covered. If you’re part of the VA system, you know that dental benefits are treated differently. If you’re an adult on Medicaid or serve adult patients who are on Medicaid, you know the chances are slim that there’s great coverage for dental care, unless you are lucky to be in a state that still covers it. Why does this happen and what can result?
A study recently released by the Pew Center on the States offers startling data on the scope of the problem and its consequences. In 2009, some 830,000 Americans visited an emergency department for a preventable dental condition. It should be obvious that the emergency department isn’t the best place to seek dental care. The same year, 56 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children got no dental care whatsoever, not even a routine exam. That’s no care even with insurance for it!
Those numbers are alarming for many reasons, but mostly because they reveal a significant public health challenge confronting the nation: Many Americans simply aren’t getting the oral care they need, at any age, including the basic preventive services and education that can detect oral disease in early stages. They are putting their health at risk, and increasing the strain on an already-overwhelmed health care system.
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, so the Human Capital Blog reached out to John Gusha, DMD, PC, a 2003 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leader, to learn more about children’s oral health. As project director of the Central Massachusetts Oral Health Initiative, Gusha mobilized dozens of dental societies and non-profit groups to provide dental care for low-income residents of Worcester County. Although funding for the Oral Health Initiative has ended, many of the programs Gusha helped create are still in place.
Human Capital Blog: What spurred the Central Massachusetts Oral Health Initiative? What made you aware of this need for oral health care in your community?
John Gusha: There was a special legislative report in 2000 that described disparities in access to oral health care for low-income populations. It raised a lot of questions about what we could be doing in the community and in the dental society to address these gaps. We got funding from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, which also saw this as a critical need for our area, to launch the initiative.
HCB: Tell us about the school-based programs you put in place.
Gusha: The decay rate in Worcester County schools was very high—more than one-third of the students had active decay in their mouths. It was especially prominent in schools with high numbers of free and reduced price lunches, where students came from low-income families that are more likely to be using Medicaid. These students didn’t have access to care and weren’t getting the preventive services they needed.
We started a school-based program that is now in place in more than 30 Worcester County schools. Dental hygiene students from a local community college provide fluoride varnishes, cleanings and other preventive services to students, and the University of Massachusetts’ Ronald McDonald “Care Mobile” visits schools to offer the same services. Community health centers also participate in these programs by adding dental to their school-based health centers. In the past you could go to schools and provide services, but Medicaid rules didn’t allow you to get reimbursed. We were able to help get those rules changed so the program could become sustainable.
HCB: You also had a role in creating a dental residency program and training primary care providers to screen for oral health needs.
Gusha: We wanted to better integrate dentistry into medicine. The University of Massachusetts was the administrator of our program, and the team there developed a dental residency program at the medical school. The University had no classes in oral health before this. The local hospitals were in desperate need of professionals with this kind of training, particularly in emergency rooms. The Medicaid population was presenting there frequently for treatment because they had nowhere else to go, and people with other issues like cardiac problems or cancer needed clearance on their oral health in order to proceed with treatment.
The residency program is still in place at our two local community health centers, and it’s grown now to include education for other disciplines.
In many communities it is challenging to provide care for patients without insurance or with Medicaid, especially if they have complex or urgent health care needs. Getting approval for a diagnostic test or a timely appointment with a specialist - if it’s to happen at all - often requires several phone calls to empathic colleagues, cashing in on favors, and extensive coordination to make it all happen.
With a small pool of specialty physicians providing care for uninsured and underinsured adults, there is a limited capacity to provide timely care. Wait-times for appointments are long, and this often results in fragmented care plans, disease advancement and overuse of emergency departments and hospitals.
The supply-demand mismatch may get worse as strapped states cut Medicaid reimbursement levels to physicians and as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act takes effect, expanding Medicaid eligibility to an additional 15 million adults. In a recent New York Times guest editorial, Killing Medicaid the California Way, Bruce C. Vladeck, PhD, former assistant vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and administrator of Medicare and Medicaid from 1993 to 1997, and Stephen I. Vladeck, JD, a professor of law at American University, give a grim account of the legal and political forces that may perpetuate provider shortages and ultimately threaten the equal access mandate.
But the problem of limited access for the uninsured and underinsured may not be so bleak. In 2008, six RWJF Scholars from Yale University (Erica S. Spatz, MD, MHS; Michael S. Phipps, MD, MHS; Katherine Goodrich, MD, MHS; Danil V. Makarov, MD, MHS; Kate V. Viola, MD, MHS; and Oliver J. Wang, MD, MBA, MHS) joined a local effort to bring a program called Project Access to New Haven, CT. Project Access expands the pool of providers for the uninsured by encouraging local specialty physicians and area hospitals to donate care; Project Access employs patients navigators to coordinate care and to address patient-level barriers to care delivery.
In a new study, RWJF Clinical Scholar Jeffrey T. Kullgren, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., and colleagues find that more U.S. adults postpone or go without medical care for nonfinancial reasons than for financial reasons. These barriers, such as inability to find a primary care physician, or limited office hours, are common and limit patient access to health care.
Read the story on the Human Capital Web site, and tell us what you think by taking the poll below.