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Medi-Cal Children Having Trouble Getting Dental Care Services, Survey Says

A new study by The Children’s Partnership indicates some Medi-Cal families are having difficulty accessing dental care, particularly Spanish-speaking families.

California children aren’t getting the dental care they need through Medi-Cal, according to a survey released yesterday by The Children’s Partnership.

By the end of this year, the survey pointed out, about five million children — more than half of the state’s kids — will be Medi-Cal children. And those youngsters are having difficulty accessing dental care in California, the survey said.

It also found one particularly troubling trend in access, according to Jenny Kattlove, director of strategic health initiatives for The Children’s Partnership.

The state posts a registry of those dentists in California who are accepting new Medi-Cal patients — but 10% of those providers aren’t actually taking on Medi-Cal children, Kattlove said.

“What we found is, many people were denied services, because about 10% of the providers [listed by the state] didn’t take Medi-Cal patients, either at all or they weren’t accepting new ones,” Kattlove said.

The sample size of the survey was relatively small, Kattlove said. Using the state’s online resource to access dentists, the Partnership made 220 calls and talked to representatives at 145 dental offices on the list.

“We didn’t know what to expect, we really wanted to find out,” Kattlove said. “We really just wanted to assess the experience of families. The state has taken a lot of steps to make sure families can access dental care, but this shows that there’s a lot more work to be done.”

Officials from the Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal dental services and the online dental resource, responded to requests for comment with this written statement:

“DHCS is strongly committed to providing access to quality dental care for our Medi-Cal members through Medi-Cal dental programs.  Improving the performance of these programs is a top priority, and DHCS is constantly exploring ways to enhance both access and the quality of dental care provided.  The state has in place a federally-approved access monitoring program to closely monitor access for Medi-Cal members, and we help beneficiaries looking for providers connect to those providers nearest to them.  Earlier this year, California was ranked by Mission Analytics Group as one of the best in the nation in terms of the quality and accuracy of the data submitted to the Insure Kids Now Dental Locator.  We acknowledge the dental network changes daily, and we work to update the list regularly.  We look forward to continuing to serve our Medi-Cal members with accessible, quality health coverage.”

Among the findings in The Children’s Partnership survey:

  • Some information on the state’s dental resource website was inaccurate, including listing many providers as accepting Medi-Cal patients when they don’t;  
  • Many Spanish-speaking families had difficulty getting assistance in Spanish, despite specific statements on the site claiming the availability of Spanish-speaking staff; and
  • Providers frequently denied some or all services for children under 3 years old.

“In general, many dental providers are uncomfortable treating younger children on Medi-Cal,” Kattlove said. Many of them had a policy of referring out children ages 3 and younger, or simply did not want to see them, Kattlove said.

“There are areas in California where there are gaps in [dental] care,” Kattlove said.

The information about which dentists are willing to see children under age 3 should be part of the state’s registry, Kattlove said.

 “By the time all the children transition from Healthy Families into Medi-Cal [at the end of 2013], there should be about five million on Medi-Cal, and that’s more than half of California’s children. Their families need access to updated, current information,” she said.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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