California Healthline Daily Edition

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Medi-Cal To Cover Teledentistry Services Beginning in 2015

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed a bill (AB 1174) to expand Medi-Cal coverage to teledentistry services beginning on Jan. 1, 2015, Kaiser Health News' "Capsules" reports. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.

California is one of the first states to enact teledentistry services, according to "Capsules" (Hernandez, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 9/29).

Details of Law

The bill, by Assembly member Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), is designed to reach people in underserved areas -- particularly rural areas -- across the state (Gorn, California Healthline, 1/28).

It makes permanent two components of the Virtual Dental Home pilot program, which uses telehealth to offer dental services in elementary schools, preschools and nursing homes:

  • Expanding the scope of practice for dental assistants and hygienists; and
  • Providing Medi-Cal reimbursements for telehealth-enabled dental services.

The program allows dental assistants and hygienists to consult remotely with a dentist and share health records online. After a consultation, the workers can perform certain services without a dentist's supervision, such as:

AB 1174 also calls for professional groups to offer training to dental assistants and hygienists for being part of a teledentistry team.

A fiscal analysis by the Assembly Appropriations Committee found that the law will cost nearly $500,000 annually, but could cost more if teledentistry services are widely used.

However, the state still must determine how to reimburse for the telehealth services.


California Dental Association President James Stephens said the law could reduce costs overall. He said, "It's a way of getting people who are outside the system into the system," adding, "Preventive care costs so much less" ("Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 9/29).

Shelly Gehshan, director of children's dental policy at Pew Charitable Trusts, in a release said, "The state's action will allow the program to grow and serve even more people who are going without care."

Meanwhile, Wendy Lazarus, founder and co-president of The Children's Partnership, said, "This is a huge victory for California's children and children across the nation," adding, "By combining workforce innovations with advances in technology, California is now one step closer to closing the dental care gap kids face and reducing the number of children who miss school or are distracted by pain resulting from the number one chronic health problem among children -- dental disease" (Pew Charitable Trusts release, 9/29).

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