Passed on June 15, the 2017-2018 California budget includes funding for state dental programs. It specifies a $30 million ongoing allocation for the state dental director’s office. An initial state allocation of $140 million will increase Denti-Cal provider rates, totaling nearly $400 million including federal matching funds, with possibly more in future budgets. And, the budget fully restores the adult Denti-Cal program beginning in 2018.
According to the California Medical Association (CMA), Denti-Cal provider networks have been chronically underfunded, though Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal cover more than a third of California’s residents and 60% of the state’s children. As a result of the insufficient funding, only 20% of dentists can accept Denti-Cal patients, and 16 of California’s 58 counties either have no Denti-Cal providers or no providers accepting new patients.
A 2014 California State Auditor report found that 24% of all children in the state complete grade school without seeing a dentist. In 2015, the ADA found that only 29% of California’s dentists participated in Medicaid for child dental services, compared to 42% in the rest of the nation. And, lack of access overall has increased dental visits to the emergency room from 44,516 in 2005 to 70,385 in 2011, reports another study.
California voters approved Proposition 56 last November, adding $2 to the state tax on tobacco products. Revenues were intended to increase reimbursements for Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal providers. When Governor Jerry Brown directed these funds elsewhere in an earlier draft of the budget, the CMA, the California Dental Association, and other groups campaigned against his decision. While advocates applaud the final budget, some believe more needs to be done.
“While this budget represents incremental progress, California and the country are still so far behind in providing oral healthcare, including basic preventive dental services, to seniors,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of West Health, a San Diego nonprofit serving the healthcare needs of the elderly. “We look forward to the positive impact this will have on many seniors, but also look forward to working on further addressing this major public health crisis.”