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Checking Numbers on Orthodontia Spending

A new study by the Pew Center on the States gave Texas a D for its pediatric dental health, as a leading state legislator says the state of Texas spent more Medicaid money on orthodontia for children than all the other states combined.

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The Austin American-Statesman’s PolitiFact unit wondered about that.

And KUT’s Emily Donahue spoke with Gardner Selby of the Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas to get the scoop.

Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who heads the Texas House Committee on Public Health, said at the Texas Tribune Festival in September that Texas spent more than all the other states combined on Medicaid-backed orthodontic procedures -- meaning braces and the like -- “according to many, many reports and even our own data."

Politifact Texas checked references by her office to multiple news reports by a Dallas TV station, WFAA, Channel 8, which starting in May 2011 laid out many accounts of needless procedures performed on children and partly funded by Medicaid, it reported, because requests for payment were not being denied. For instance, an anchor introduced a June 2011 report by saying Texas "spent $184 million last year on free braces for kids covered by Medicaid. That’s more than the rest of the country combined."

Reporter Byron Harris told PolitiFact that the station checked on 2010 spending in Texas and the nine other most populous states. Texas had that $184 million; the other states, $127 million. He also said there was not enough time to check on the other 40 states. All the reports PolitiFact found were tied to WFAA’s research. Yet Kolkhorst also emailed us handwritten notes that she described as House research into spending in the nine other big states plus five others, which all together still spent less than Texas alone that year.

The claim rated Half True. Why?WFAA's reporting clearly demonstrates the state spent more on orthodontic procedures funded by Medicaid in 2010 than the other nine most populous states, combined. But we’re about 40 states shy of the full picture.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit .

Emily Donahue is KUT’s news director. She has spent more than two decades in broadcast journalism and launched KUT’s news department in 2001. Previously, Emily was part of the Peabody-award winning team at Marketplace as producer of the Marketplace Morning Report. Since coming to KUT, Emily has overseen a doubling of the news staff and content, the accumulation of more than 50 local, national and international awards for journalistic excellence and served on several boards, including the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and as a member of the 2011 Texas Association of Broadcasters Open Government Task Force. Emily lives in Austin and is currently working on her Master’s in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.