West Virginia Oral Health Coalition Enacts Adult Dental Benefit in Medicaid After a Decade

by Gina Sharps, MPH, RDH, CTTS | Oral Health Coordinator | Marshall University
October 2020

For over a decade, the West Virginia Oral Health Coalition has worked with the West Virginia legislature to enact an adult dental benefit in Medicaid. The newly enacted dental benefit will provide much needed care to thousands of adults in West Virginia. Adults who qualify for the benefit receive both preventive and restorative dental care, underscoring the message that oral health is vital to overall health along with demonstrating the economic impact of improving oral health in the working population.

Support from Oral Health Progress and Equity Network (OPEN) members, specifically those working with state oral health coalitions on similar initiatives, was invaluable. Network members have been a tremendous source of knowledge and guidance.

There were many challenges to getting the work done, ranging from interference on the actual bill from state partners, to lack of support from those in influential state positions that were not allowed to speak up and advocate for the benefit.

We learned some extremely valuable lessons over the decade we worked on this issue including:

  • Be patient. It’s all about the right timing and having the right legislative champions, a wide variety of advocates, and an unwavering belief that what you are doing is right, is fair, and is equitable.
  • The important conversations don’t necessarily happen during the legislative session. They happen as a result of sincere and honest relationships. Relationships take time to build mutual trust. We’ve spent over a decade forging such relationships with legislators and various public and private partners which have finally paid off for the well-deserving citizens of West Virginia.

Our work is just beginning. We need strong advocacy and educational efforts to inform eligible participants, and our dental colleagues, of the dental benefit. We also know from experience that access doesn’t mean utilization. We need both, and to accomplish both, it’s going to take a lot of work.

For more information on this effort, please contact Gina Sharps at sharpsg@marshall.edu.