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Miami-Dade lawmakers fight to keep prepaid dental health plan for children

Two Miami-Dade lawmakers and a coalition of dentists are pushing back against a proposal to eliminate the state's prepaid dental health plan for children. 

The Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, has proposed having Medicaid plans take over dental services for children. It's part of a larger shift to a Statewide Medicaid Managed Care model.

But state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, says Florida should keep its prepaid dental plan for kids.

"The fact is, we have a program in place right now that works," Flores said.

The prepaid dental health plan serves about 1.8 million children. It started in Miami-Dade County in 2004, and was expanded statewide last year.

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, expressed concern that the $200 million Florida allocates for children's dental care benefits will soon be used to serve both children and adults. "I would compare this to taking from little Peter to give to Uncle Paul, Aunt Mary and neighbor Joe," he said.  

Diaz and Flores are sponsoring bills that would require AHCA to keep the prepaid dental program.

The Coalition for Independent Dentistry expressed its support for the plan Thursday in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott.

Dr. Jose Mellado, a dentist from Miami, pointed out that low-income children suffer from tooth decay twice as much as their more affluent peers. What's more, he said, cavities and gum disease have been linked to absences from school and low grades.  

AHCA spokeswoman Michelle Dahnke said the agency "feels strongly about not altering the method for providing dental services to children and adults as outlined in the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program." She pointed out that the managed care plans in reform have outperformed a fee-for-service and a statewide prepaid plan.

What's more, Dahnke said, removing dental from the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program could "jeopardize the successful implementation of the Managed Medical Assistance.

"Removing dental from the SMMC program would harm Medicaid recipients and taxpayers, and would potentially cut services to Medicaid recipients, particularly to vulnerable disabled adults," she wrote in an email to the Herald/Times. "As part of the procurement, the Agency negotiated for adult dental benefits valued at over $100 million over the life of the 5-year contract, all at no cost to taxpayers. To offer this, the plans in SMMC apparently intend to leverage their pediatric dental networks to provide this service to adults cost effectively. If pediatric dental is carved out, SMMC plans will no longer have existing dental networks to leverage and may have to curtail or drop their adult dental coverage."

She stressed that money would not be move from children to pay for adults.