A joint legislative hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Sacramento will examine a state auditor’s report that found more than half the children in California’s Medicaid dental program are not getting regular dental care and the number of dental providers in the program is dropping.
“What the audit makes clear is that we could be doing a better job in California. More than half of the children [in the Denti-Cal program] are not getting the care they need,” said Jacob Vigil, legislative advocate for Children’s Partnership, a children’s health advocacy organization.
“There is a huge issue of access here,” said Vigil, who is scheduled to testify at today’s hearing. “This audit is unique in the way it comprehensively lays out the problem, outlining the kind of recommendations that could make a difference. It represents a significant moment.”
According to the state auditor’s report released in December on the Denti-Cal program:
- Dental services have been provided to less than 50% of children enrolled in Denti-Cal;
- Five counties with at least 2,000 children enrolled in Denti-Cal might not have had any participating dentists;
- 11 counties had no dentists who were accepting new Denti-Cal patients;
- 16 counties had an insufficient number of providers accepting new Denti-Cal patients; and
- Oversight of the program by the Department of Health Care Services has been inadequate.
DHCS officials have said they agree with almost all of the state audit’s recommendations.
Vigil said that’s a hopeful sign. The main priorities, he said, are to increase provider rates in some way, concentrate resources on younger children and expand the pilot virtual dental home program.
“We think by putting the focus on Medi-Cal’s youngest children, you can have a greater impact. When you look across the lifespan, dental care at a younger age affects educational outcomes and so much more,” Vigil said.
As for rate increases, he said, “Rates are important. There is a shortage of providers and a shortage of providers taking new Denti-Cal patients. But we think we can have more targeted incentives in terms of rates.”
Vigil said, for instance, he hopes rates for the 10 most common dental procedures can be raised at least to the national average for those targeted procedures.