Tri-Cities denturists say prisoners get better coverage than those on Medicaid

Denturists Say Prisoners Get Better Coverage

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Most businesses have taken a hit in some form or another due to the pandemic, but those in one local industry say they’ve been struggling long before COVID-19 even started.

Mike Ankermiller and Christian Iturriaga have been working as denturists for years. Ankermiller owns NuSmile Denture Care and Iturriaga owns Dentures 4 U, both in Kennewick. However, it’s getting harder and harder for them to make a profit.

“Back in 2008, 2010, we got a serious hit in the economy so the funds were low, ” said Iturriaga. “Now we’re in 2020, but we’re still not receiving all the coverage that we received back then.”

Right now, Medicaid covers about $390 per arch for a patient. However, Iturriaga and Ankermiller say each arch currently costs them up to $500 plus labor fees. Not only that, the two did some research and realized that prisoners get better coverage than their patients. Denturists working for the Department of Corrections get paid $947 per arch.

“The prices are set almost three times as much as Medicaid,” said Ankermiller. “Not only are the prices set high, the DOC provides better coverage.”

Some work covered by the DOC isn’t even covered at all by Medicaid.

“When you’re in prison you’re stripped of your Medicaid rights, which is fine for them because apparently they’re getting a better deal in prison than they would if they were a law-abiding citizen,” said Ankermiller. “That’s crazy.”

And as Medicaid prices stay stagnant, costs have continued to increase. Ankermiller and Iturriaga say it’s a lose-lose situation – either the provider takes the hit, or the patient gets a lower quality of materials.

“When I had my clinic in Yakima, I was using premium materials for everybody,” said Iturriaga. “Now I have to use lower quality teeth.”

Some denturists have given up altogether.

Iturriaga said he’s known quite a few denturists that had to close their clinics and end up working for someone else. Ankermiller said he’s known some that won’t even take Medicaid anymore.

The DOC used to have a bidding process for denturists, but in 2016 they ended it and now go off of Labor & Industry fees.

KAPP-KVEW reached out to the DOC for comment and haven’t heard back. A representative from Medicaid wasn’t able to comment on the price difference either.

Additionally, Washington state is considering elimination of adult dental benefits through Medicaid altogether, due to budget deficits.

Meanwhile, the prices disparities don’t sit well with Ankermiller and Iturriaga.

“If it’s fair for the prisoners, it’s fair for Medicaid, when it’s all funded by taxpayers,” said Ankermiller.