TennCare & Cover Kids Update: Dental & Postpartum Extension

Heavyn Jennings | May 2022

Coverage for pregnant and postpartum enrollees on TennCare has recently changed! As of April 1, 2022, pregnant individuals on TennCare will receive dental coverage and a postpartum coverage period of 12 months. We applaud TennCare for these steps in the right direction to address our nation’s maternal mortality crisis which disproportionately impacts black women and Medicaid enrollees. Black women died at 2.5 times the rate of white women, yet 100% of their pregnancy-related deaths were preventable from 2017-2020. Moreover, 90% of all pregnancy-related deaths in Tennessee were preventable. These two policy changes are key to improving the health and well-being of pregnant and postpartum people in Tennessee. 

Dental Coverage 

The first change is the addition of dental coverage for pregnant and postpartum TennCare enrollees. Only 36.4% of pregnant women in Tennessee reported getting their teeth cleaned during pregnancy between 2018 and 2019. This is alarming. Oral health has a vital role in overall health and poor oral health can lead to severe health problems including high blood pressure and heart disease (see our oral health brief). For women with children, the consequences of poor oral health are often passed down to their children. In fact, children of mothers with untreated cavities or tooth loss are three times more likely to have cavities as a child.  

The inclusion of dental coverage in TennCare will improve affordability and access to comprehensive dental care. The comprehensive dental benefits covered for pregnant and postpartum TennCare enrollees will include the basics like x-rays, exams, preventive cleanings, tooth extractions but also restorative procedures such as fillings, crowns, root canals, dentures, and periodontal maintenance. 

Prior to the implementation of this change, Tennessee was one of three states that did not provide dental benefits of any kind-even emergency- to adult enrollees on its Medicaid program. Dental coverage was limited to enrollees under 21 years of age. Now, Tennessee provides comprehensive dental benefits to pregnant and postpartum enrollees on TennCare and Governor’s Lee’s 2022-2023 budget allocates funds to provide dental services to all adults enrolled in TennCare. 

Post-Partum Coverage Extension 

The second change is the extension of postpartum coverage for TennCare enrollees. With 1 in 3 (33%) of pregnancy-related deaths occurring after 43 days postpartum in Tennessee, this was a more than necessary change. Tennessee is 1 of 13 states that extended its Medicaid program’s postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months on April 1st, when the federal option became available. An additional 14 states have plans to do the same. The coverage benefits remain the same throughout the pregnancy and 12-month postpartum period.  

While the dental coverage is limited to TennCare enrollees, the postpartum extension includes pregnant and postpartum enrollees on CoverKids, Tennessee’s Children’s Health Insurance Program. CoverKids is a vital safety net which covers pregnant enrollees regardless of citizenship or immigration status. To take advantage of these new benefits, current enrollees must let TennCare know they’re pregnant either through the online portal, tenncareconnect.tn.gov or by calling 855-259-0701. 

These policy changes emphasize the necessity of health coverage during and after pregnancy. The next step is improving access to pre-conception care. Currently limited family planning services are available on a sliding scale at county health departments, but 405,580 women in Tennessee live in areas classified as contraceptive deserts, counties that lack reasonable access to a range of contraceptive methods. Therefore, the next step is Medicaid expansion which would provide comprehensive healthcare including family planning services to 119,000 people in the coverage gap including 31,000 women of reproductive age. This would provide low-income childless adults the ability to access a range of family planning services, including contraceptives and regular check-ups, at any provider who accepts Medicaid. Send an email to our leaders now and tell them to expand Medicaid and improve pre-conception care for low-income adults. 

STAY INVOLVED

We have lots of opportunities to get involved here at TJC! Learn more about Health Equity in Tennessee and around the nation. Visit our Action Center to see what you can do to encourage our state to solve our health needs and improve our safety net. Looking for other ways to contribute to our mission? You can also donate to TJC so that we can continue to do this work to improve our community for each and every person who’s a part of it.

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