For the past five years low-income adults in California have been without public
Dental Insurance. In 2009 funding was cut for Denti-Cal, California’s public
insurance for low-income residents. Thankfully it remained for children because it
is federally mandated. The loss of adult Denti-Cal in CA led to an increase in Dental
emergency room visits and a rapid decline in oral health of low income Californians.
The California Dental Association did an impressive job of addressing the issue by
holding CDA Cares events, where California residents waited days to be seen by a
dentist. These events highlighted the broad effects of cutting dental benefits.
The CDA worked diligently to impress upon public officials the importance of the
program and just how detrimental the decision to cut the program could be. Their
dedication paid off: in June 2013 Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to allow
qualifying adults back into Denti-Cal. The program includes: periodic exams,
radiographs, basic cleanings, pre-fabricated crowns, fillings, anterior endodontics,
extractions and complete dentures. It does not cover all of the procedures included
in years past, but it is certainly a great step.
Due to expansion of health care coverage from the Affordable Care Act, Denti-Cal
is on track to cover roughly 10 million people by June 2015. However, with limited dentists
serving Denti-Cal patients a concern is that community clinics and federally
qualified health centers will be over burdened. The poor reimbursement rates for
Denti-Cal keep dentists from participating in the program. California has some of the
lowest rates in the country and recently legislature enacted a 10% cut on Medi-Cal
“I don’t know how they’re going to grow a network when they continue to cut their
reimbursement,” Dr. James Stephens, the president of the California Dental
Association told Kaiser Health News this past February. “It’s hard to get people to do dentistry at a loss.”
The return of Denti-Cal is a great step for California’s oral health. Low-income
individuals can get dental care that is focused on halting disease and preventing
future infections. To best reach the underserved in California there is still work to be
done. Creating a Denti-Cal that better reimburses providers and presents patients
with more comprehensive care should be advocated for. In the meantime California
residents will certainly benefit from the reinstatement of Denti-Cal.
For more on how the CDA was involved with reinstating Denti-Cal, visit CDA.org.
~Quinn Yost, Los Angeles ’16, legislative coordinator, Districts 10 & 11