Closing of Randolph dentist further shrinks options for Medicaid recipients

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-08-2022 6:16 AM

RANDOLPH — Following the retirement of a dentist early this year, there is no longer a dental practice in Randolph that accepts new patients covered by Medicaid, further exacerbating problems with access to oral care for some of the state’s least affluent residents.

Dr. John Lansky informed patients that he would be retiring from his private practice on School Street in Randolph in February.

In his letter announcing the change, he directed patients to Wilson Dentistry on Central Street. While Wilson Dentistry also is in Randolph, the practice does not accept Medicaid, Lansky’s letter said.

“It is a very tough situation, especially with gas prices,” Robin Miller, oral health director for the Vermont Department of Health, said of the loss of Lansky’s practice for Randolph-area patients on Medicaid, the government-funded health insurance that covers some low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

Lansky’s announcement comes at a time when many dental practices around the country are still trying to manage a backlog of cases built up from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anecdotally, fewer dentists are taking Medicaid — which reimburses dentists at a lower rate than commercial insurance — since the pandemic hit and many practices also are managing worker shortages, Miller said.

“COVID has really created the perfect storm for the (dental) industry,” she said.

On Tuesday, Nissa James, a spokeswoman for the Department of Vermont Health Access, said that there is a dental practice accepting new patients on Medicaid, Northfield Elite Dental, in Northfield, Vt., some 17 miles from Randolph.

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She also said Wilson Dentistry, the practice Lansky referred his patients to, does accept Medicaid for some current patients but is not currently taking new patients on Medicaid. The practice told the department it would reevaluate whether it could accept new patients on Medicaid within the next six months, James said.

Similarly, the Northfield (Vt.) Dental Group also told the department it would be reevaluating whether it would take new patients after it catches up on its pandemic-related backlog, she said.

As of Tuesday, the department had not yet made contact with dentists in Windsor County to determine whether they are currently taking new Medicaid patients, she said.

“As a community, we are consistently offering fewer dental options to Vermonters enrolled in Medicaid,” said Dana Michalovic, executive director of the Good Neighbor Health Clinic and Red Logan Dental Clinic in White River Junction. “Regular dental care is an important part of overall health. As a safety net dental provider, we see the downstream impacts each day of what lack of access and regular dental care means for those in need.”

Red Logan offers free comprehensive dental care to uninsured adults who live within 30 miles of White River Junction and have income less than 250% of the federal poverty level, Michalovic said.

Dr. John Holbach, a White River Junction dentist employed by the Vermont Department of Health Access, retired in 2017. His retirement left about 520 patients without a dental home, the Valley News reported at the time.

An online portal, vtmedicaid.com/#/providerLookup, indicates that there are 387 dentists who take Vermont Medicaid and are accepting new patients. Lansky is the only dentist with a Randolph address on the list. Elsewhere in the Upper Valley, dentists in Springfield, Vt.; Bradford, Vt.; Claremont; South Royalton; Lebanon; West Lebanon; New London; and Canaan are listed as accepting new patients.

While Lansky’s former patients covered by Medicaid can call 211 or go to an online provider portal to find another dentist that takes Medicaid, “it’s going to be a ways to travel at this point,” Miller said. “Ideally, we would replace that Dr. Lansky (with an) alternative in Randolph.”

In an email last week, Lansky declined to comment for this story. Efforts to reach Dr. Chris Wilson, of Wilson Dentistry, were unsuccessful. The practice’s website says Wilson, a U.S. Air Force veteran, opened the Randolph practice in 1994.

In an effort to entice more dentists to accept Medicaid and accept more patients on Medicaid, the state has recently increased the dental benefit from $510 annually to $1,000, Miller said. In addition, the state has increased the Medicaid reimbursement rate for some dental procedures, which is expected to cost a total of more than $1 million annually.

At the Randolph-based Gifford Health Care, a federally qualified health center, roughly 17% of patients are covered by Medicaid, said Scott Fleishman, a Gifford spokesman.

Rebecca O’Berry, Gifford’s vice president of operations, declined to comment for this story, but confirmed there are no dentists who take Medicaid for the Randolph community.

Gifford’s website points patients to the South Royalton-based nonprofit HealthHub for preventive dental care.

HealthHub’s dental hygienist, Janine Reeves, provides dental cleanings, screenings, fluoride treatments, digital diagnostic x-rays and sealants for children and adults in the White River Valley. The organization’s mobile unit is parked at Gifford in the summer and travels to area schools during the school year, said Dr. Becky Foulk, HealthHub’s board president and founder.

“This is a very old story,” Foulk, a retired pediatrician, said of the difficulty patients covered by Medicaid have finding a dentist. “Because there are many dentists in the state who will not accept Medicaid patients at all (and) many others who set a quota, despite the fact that folks who are on Medicaid have a benefit, they can’t use it.”

Or they have to travel a great distance to get to one of the places that will accept their insurance, she said.

To expand services next school year, HealthHub recently was awarded $350,000 in federal funding that it plans to use to purchase a larger mobile unit, Foulk said.

“We have had limited capacity for seeing adults,” she said. “We’re hoping to expand that with this new facility.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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