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DentaQuest restores Idaho dentists cut from program

The private contractor hired to oversee Idaho’s dental program for Medicaid clients has agreed to reach out to dozens of dentists around the state whose contracts for providing care were not renewed.

The decision to reopen the contract process comes one day after Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter convened a meeting with dentists, state welfare officials and DentaQuest to address recent frustration over the smaller pool of dentists enrolled in the Idaho Smiles program.

DentaQuest is the private subcontractor that earlier this year won the contract to administer the program that reimburses dentists who care for the teeth of Idaho’s growing number of poor and disabled.

Earlier this year, DentaQuest renewed contracts with hundreds of dentists around the state. But dozens of dentists either never received contracts or were left out of the renewal process. Some of those dentists then received termination letters, creating confusion, frustration at the prospect of losing half of their clientele and concern that some of Idaho’s neediest could go without care.

“Our communication was insufficient,” DentaQuest President Steve Pollock said Tuesday. “It didn’t allow dentists the opportunity to respond. We decided the best way to move forward is to allow all dentists in the program to continue to participate.”

Pollock said a new batch of contracts would be sent to affected dentists this week. It was initially reported that about 150 dentists around the state were left out of the new network, but state officials could not confirm that total Tuesday.

Dick Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said about 250 dentists are under the new network contract so far to serve the 190,000 people now enrolled in the Idaho Smiles program.

Like other state agencies, Health and Welfare is under pressure to find ways to trim Medicaid programs amid declining state tax revenues, and DentaQuest is trying to control costs by trimming the biggest providers of Medicaid dental services.

The flare-up over the contracts emerged last week in a feisty exchange between Otter and his Democratic challenger Keith Allred. During a debate, Allred criticized Otter for making a decision to leave dentists out of the program by consulting with a narrow group of people and failing to communicate with those affected by the changes.

Otter said some dentists who were dropped were “actually overproviding” services, then followed up by touting a new monitoring system to make sure dentists don’t do more for patients that allowed under the rules.

But Otter also conceded there were communication problems with dentists who were left out of the new network, prompting him to call Monday’s meeting.

“The main thing I want to communicate today is the shared commitment by everyone involved that no Idaho Medicaid recipients will be denied access to dental care,” Otter said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Allred says the controversy is symbolic of Otter’s inability to reach out to consult with an array of stakeholders before making a decision that affects people’s lives.

“This is just one more in a long pattern of reckless decisions from Butch Otter,” Allred said. “This is a governor who shoots first and asks questions later.”

About The Associated Press