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Medicaid Tough On Teeth

Until last year, 20 per cent of the children treated at a dental practice in Portsmouth, New Hampshire were on Medicaid. But two months ago, dentists at the office became part of a disturbing trend. They decided not to accept adults or children on Medicaid.

"It was not an issue of the patients per se, but simply an issue with the dollars," says Jon Wendell, a pediatric dentist.

He says that in 1998, Medicaid, a state-run insurance program for the poor, reimbursed his practice $50,000 for work that cost $120,000.

"The state simply cannot pay individual dentists less money than it takes to provide the procedure and expect participants to be part of the Medicaid program," Wendell says.

In response, Medicaid patients and dentists have filed at least three class action lawsuits to force states to pay more to care for the poor, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

If you live in a low income area and your child has a cavity, here's how dental care works if you're on Medicaid: You go to the hospital emergency room and you wait. And only if your child is in pain is there a possibility of immediate treatment.

"I used to wait from six months to a year for an appointment," says Cecilia Toval. "For one appointment."

Cecilia Toval and her children don't have to wait anymore because they found something rare -- a private dental practice in New York City that gladly accepts Medicaid clients.

But this oasis of dental care for the poor is in jeopardy, because New York's governor wants deeper cuts in Medicaid funding.

"A lot of doctors are moving out of the region, moving to where there are more private insurers," says Dr. Juan Tapia Mendoza.

And with even fewer dentists available to treat children on Medicaid, the founder of this clinic predicts more tooth decay and more suffering.

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