Dentistry training may get hit by UCare loss

Without UCare as a provider for some large state healthcare plans, the insurer could drop its mobile clinic.

Katie Bogensberger

A bus stamped with the faces of smiling children and parents brings dental care to communities across the state and serves as a training ground for University of Minnesota dental students — but it might soon have no further reason to continue operation.
Because the state dropped UCare  — a public insurance provider aimed at low-income patients — as a provider of some healthcare programs, the insurer’s 43-foot-long mobile clinic staffed by School of Dentistry students will have no reason to operate come January if the decision to drop UCare from the programs isn’t reversed in an appeal.
UCare currently provides health coverage to more than 300,000 individuals and families enrolled in state health care programs. 
The mobile clinic UCare operates gives University students studying dentistry, dental hygiene and dental therapy a chance to train in a real-world environment.
The University’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health created UCare in 1984. UCare has been independent from the University for 13 years.
The state Department of Human Services chose not to contract with UCare for service to some public assistance members – like those who receive coverage under MinnesotaCare and Medicaid – for 2016, according to a statement from UCare President and CEO Jim Eppel. 
“I don’t know why this is happening,” said Dr. Bill Roberts, UCare board member and professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. 
Roberts said UCare’s main goal is to give back to the community, which it does by providing grants to doctors in residency and researchers.
In the mobile clinic, which launched in 2002 and provides service to about 1,000 people each year, School of Dentistry faculty members and students provide services like cleanings and primary dental care checkups.
Low-income patients who need state assistance and were previously enrolled with UCare will be distributed among other insurance companies throughout the state, Roberts said. 
The mobile dental clinic serves patients in the Twin Cities metro area and spends a week at multiple sites in greater Minnesota each year.
Paul Schulz, director of the mobile dental clinic, said he is worried not only because a lot of the people the clinic serves are UCare members but also because of the training dentistry students receive at the clinic.
“This partnership between UCare and our School of Dentistry provides valuable opportunities to educate and train the next generation of dentists,” Schulz said. “This service also provides necessary access to dental care for UCare members across the state.”