Access, Reimbursements Looming Issues in Debate on Dental Care
More than $130 million in Denti-Cal funds over the past seven years went unspent by the state and was reallocated to the federal government, despite a shortage of dental services for low-income residents in California, the Sacramento Bee reports. Denti-Cal is offered through Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program.
Stan Rosenstein, director of Medi-Cal, said the refund to the federal government came after the state completed a prepaid contract with Delta Dental, a private health plan that administers Denti-Cal.
Rosenstein added, "Over the course of a seven-year contract, (Delta Dental) has been paid $131 million more than their costs, so the state recovered the money."
Liz Snow, chief strategist for the California Dental Association, said the state is exacerbating a shortage of dental care for Denti-Cal patients because Denti-Cal reimbursements are about one-third of payments for dental services from private insurers.
The low reimbursement rates have caused the 6.5 million enrollees in Denti-Cal to have "an exceptionally difficult time" finding a dentist who will treat them," Snow said.
Rosenstein said the state "didn't lose" the Denti-Cal funds that were reallocated to the federal government. He added that the state will recapture the funds "when we spend money on other things" in Medi-Cal.
Rosenstein said that all states are having access problems because of a shortage of dentists and low reimbursement rates. However, he noted that California is one of just a few states that offer dental coverage to adults and that Denti-Cal recently expanded the services that it covers.
Wynne Grossman, executive director of the Dental Health Foundation, questioned the value of expanding the number of services covered, arguing that the shortage of providers mitigates the value of covering additional services.
In addition, dental health advocates are urging lawmakers to incorporate measures to improve access to dental care into health care reform proposals under consideration (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 7/3).