BENNINGTON -- A local woman was recognized last week for her efforts to increase dental coverage for pregnant and postpartum women.
When Kiah Morris was pregnant two years ago, she was in need of a root canal after a tooth infection spread to her lymph nodes. The cost of the procedure far exceeded Morris' coverage through Dr. Dynasaur, Vermont's health care program for children and pregnant women that is similar to Medicaid, which was for work up to just $495 for adult dental.
She then found herself navigating the dental care system to get the care she needed to relieve her pain, while facing increased risks of having a pre-term birth associated with poor oral health among pregnant women.
The Dr. Dynasaur coverage is enough to have a tooth extracted, which Morris eventually had to do, but she said the coverage is not enough for often expensive procedures that are recommended. "Dental issues, decay, or infections like that are critical to have fixed when you're pregnant," she said.
Morris, the tobacco prevention coordinator at Southwestern Vermont Health Care, shared her experience with the Vermont Oral Health Care for All Coalition, and then in March as a panelist at a Town Hall Meeting sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in Burlington. Her personal story, explaining that "dental care is not a luxury," was printed in Sanders' report on the Dental Crisis in America and shared with policy makers both in Vermont and across the nation.
Carlen Finn, executive director for Voices for Vermont's Children, which is part of the Coalition, said Morris' testimony played an instrumental role in the passage of a state law during this year's legislative session that lifts the dental coverage cap for pregnant women.
"Essentially, the state has taken the option to provide full dental coverage to pregnant and postpartum women who are on Medicaid, and that is huge because it does cost money," Finn said. "It will impact thousands of pregnant and postpartum women."
For her willingness to share her own experiences in an effort improve dental coverage for pregnant women across the state, the Coalition awarded Morris a Courage Award on June 25.
"We (the Coalition) make sure the story is told for whatever the issue is, whether it's the lack of access for thousands and thousands of Vermonters or limited coverage. We have the data and we can show the data, but if we don't have people who can tell their stories and make it real, and make the data come alive, it diminishes the case you want to make," Finn said.
While the hope was that the new law lifting the Medicaid cap for pregnant women would take effect in July, Finn said it may not be effective until October.
The Coalition, which has been around two years and includes 41 organizations, strives to build a statewide consumer voice and raise public awareness of the need for better access to affordable dental care. The Coalition's comprehensive agenda includes expanding dental coverage, adding a Licensed Dental Practitioner to the dental team, and including dental care in Green Mountain Care.
Morris was the only consumer to be recognized by the Coalition, which also presented Courage Awards to three lawmakers for their work during the legislative session -- Reps. Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle, Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, and Patsy French, D-Randolph.
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