More Alaska kids with Medicaid may qualify for braces

Posted: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The state of Alaska must pay for braces on the teeth of foster children and young people on Medicaid who need them, a superior court judge ruled Monday.

Judge William Morse issued an order in a lawsuit brought by an advocacy group for foster children called Facing Foster Care in Alaska. He granted a preliminary injunction against a state rule that limits braces to severe conditions such as cleft palate.

The state argued that Facing Foster Care does not have the right to bring a lawsuit.

Morse disagreed and ruled the state cannot use its own regulations to limit services that are required by federal code. The braces still have to be medically necessary - not just for the sake of appearance.

Mariah Miller of Kenai, an 18-year-old on Medicaid whose case is outlined in the lawsuit, applauded the decision.

"If your teeth are messed up and your dentist says you need braces, then you can get braces," she said.

Miller said her jaw hurts from morning until night because of crowding and she suffers from a joint disorder on both sides of her mouth.

She said she has needed braces for years but her orthodontist told her Medicaid would not cover the treatment. Now she's looking forward to getting her problem fixed.

The court ordered the state to pay for orthodontia according to federal code that states the services offered must include, at a minimum, "relief of pain and infections, restoration of teeth and maintenance of dental health."

The lawsuit isn't over, but The Anchorage Daily News reported the case affects not only 2,000 foster children but 63,000 young people in Alaska on Medicaid.

The state and federal governments contribute money to the Medicaid program and both have rules about who qualifies for services.

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