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CDA, members of Congress urge Denti-Cal budget boost

May 26, 2015

By Craig Palmer

Dr. Weber
Washington – Sixteen members of California's congressional delegation signed a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislative leaders "to encourage you to prioritize investments in oral health in the state's final 2015-16 budget."

The California Dental Association also called for immediate action from the state to address the "broken Denti-Cal [dental Medicaid] system, which fails to provide adequate access to care for millions of low-income Californians who experience and are at risk of developing dental disease." The CDA is urging the state administration and Legislature to begin fixing Denti-Cal by conducting an accurate assessment of the number of active providers and adequately funding the program.

Western Dental, the state's largest provider of Denti-Cal services to low-income patients, told customer service callers in a recorded message May 26, "and of course we welcome Denti-Cal and all indemnity dental insurance plans." But in an announcement reported by the Sacramento Bee May 21, Western Dental said it will no longer accept new Denti-Cal patients at more than a dozen of its clinics starting June 1, will close two clinics and will lay off 200 employees in California.   

"CDA understands Western Dental's difficult decision," said Dr. Walt Weber, California Dental Association president. "It is disheartening to see the negative effects of our state's failing Denti-Cal system, and CDA will continue to advocate for immediate improvements."

In their May 13 "Dear Governor Brown and Legislative Leaders" letter, the U.S. House of Representatives members -- 30 percent of the state's congressional delegation -- said the state has not increased Denti-Cal reimbursement rates since fiscal year 2000-2001. "As a result, the State Auditor found that Denti-Cal reimbursement rates for the ten most common procedures in 2012 averaged $21.60, or just 35 percent of the national average of $61.96. This has had a significantly negative impact on the number of dentists in California still willing and able to participate in the program, even those who have long been enrolled in Denti-Cal."

"We recognize that California faces many competing budget pressures," the 16 U.S. representatives said. "However, for Denti-Cal to be a meaningful benefit, enrollees must have access to care." They urged the governor and state legislative leaders "to prioritize improvements to the Denti-Cal program in this year's budget."