February 6, 2019

Worcester Sox will be voice for oral health care, official says

Photo | SHNS
PawSox President Charles Steinberg, speaking at a State House briefing Wednesday, offered his Triple-A organization as a communication platform to oral health care advocates.

Dr. Charles Steinberg wore three Red Sox World Series rings -- he hasn't received his fourth yet -- on his left hand in a State House hearing room Wednesday, the bejeweled red "B's" glimmering as he pointed to his mandible.

It was three fewer championship rings than were celebrated down the hill on Tuesday as New England Patriots players rolled by on duck boats, but still three more than you typically see at a briefing on oral health legislation.

Steinberg, president of the Pawtucket Red Sox, recounted his early years in baseball, working as a summer intern at the Baltimore Orioles and studying players' mouth guards while in dentistry school. He later became the team's dentist, counseling players against the use of smokeless tobacco, before working his way up to other roles in the league, including with the Red Sox organization.

As advocates highlighted the issues of access and affordability in oral health care, Steinberg drew a parallel to the stadium that will become his team's home once it moves to Worcester.

"The entire commonwealth deserves to benefit from the joy that a newly designed ballpark in the heart of Worcester can provide, the affordable tickets, so affordable that we'll make sure that no one is denied access," Steinberg said. "Everyone should benefit, and if that gives us a platform, if that gives us a window, if that gives us a microphone, if that gives us a megaphone to enhance oral health care -- oral health service, oral health access, screenings, mouthguards, the hazards of smokeless tobacco -- you tell me what message you want as a priority, and you've got a platform throughout the commonwealth."

Lawmakers and representatives of the advocacy group Health Care for All highlighted two priority bills for the new legislative session.

One, sponsored by Oral Health Caucus co-chairs Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. Kevin Honan, would restore full dental coverage benefits to adults on MassHealth, instead of the current partial coverage.

Dr. Neetu Singh, a dentist who serves as Health Care For All's oral health project director, said MassHealth dental benefits have ebbed and flowed over the years and advocates since 2010 have worked with legislators to "use the state's budget process to reinstate coverage for certain dental benefits in an incremental fashion."

Services like root canal treatment are not covered, but that would change under the Chandler and Honan bills, Singh said.

"We're very close to having a full benefit and we are hopeful that this session we'll finally get there," she said. "It's been almost ten years at this point."

Oral health advocates have also been pushing for years to authorize dental therapists, mid-level dental providers they say would help more people access care. Chandler and Rep. Kate Hogan filed the dental therapists bill this session, after similar measures died last cycle.

The Public Health Committee, which Hogan co-chaired, struck a deal on a bill with dentists, hygienists and health care advocates to authorize the licensure of dental therapists, setting requirements for their training and spelling out circumstances in which they would need supervision by a dentist. The House Ways and Means Committee never brought the bill to the floor.

Senators included dental therapist certification language in a broader health care bill they passed in November 2017. That bill collapsed when House and Senate lawmakers could not reach a compromise by a July 31, 2018 deadline.

"The big health care bill broke down, and that was our problem," Chandler told advocates. "We're starting again this year, and with your help, hopefully we'll see it happen."


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