Many Beneficiaries in Pain Due to California’s Dental Coverage Cuts

For 7 months, over 3 million Californians, many of which are also Medicare beneficiaries, have had no dental coverage. California’s state Medicaid program, Medi-Cal used to cover basicadult dental benefits such as annual exams, cleanings, and if necessary, root canals before the drastic budget cuts that went into effect July 1, 2009. Now, with no Medi-Cal adult dental services to cover their care, clients who are in pain but have no money or coverage to pay for care are being turned away from dentist offices and community clinics around the state.

Even with dentists and clinics offering discounts and payment plans to Medi-Cal clients, it’s not enough. Often beneficiaries are left choosing between using money for rent and food or for needed dental work. Many clients are wait until the pain is unbearable to get their dental care, and often they resort to having their teeth pulled versus getting a root canal because of expense.

In addition, dental schools and free dental clinics are overrun with clients and many community clinics that have relied on state funding have reduced their services and in some cases, have closed their doors.

Under federal law, dental coverage is an optional benefit for state Medicaid programs. Yet all but 7 states have included it in their Medicaid programs because good dental hygiene and care is such an important piece of maintaining good health. Because of the recession, however, many states have scaled back their coverage and in some cases only cover emergency dental care.

In California, the state will still pay to have a tooth pulled in an emergency, but it no longer covers the cost of expensive dentures. This presents a problem for dual-eligible Medicare beneficiaries (beneficiaries on Medicare and Medi-Cal).  As Medicare doesn’t cover dental care,  these low-income beneficiaries have long relied on the state’s dental benefits when needing dentures.

For more information on the cuts to the adult dental benefits, including frequently asked questions on eliminated services, see Medi-Cal’s website.

You can also listen to National Public Radio’s recent story highlighting this imminent problem.

Karen Joy Fletcher

Our blogger Karen Joy Fletcher is CHA’s Communications Director. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she is the online “public face” of the organization, provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare and other health care issues. She is responsible for digital content creation, management of CHA’s editorial calendar, and managing all aspects of CHA’s social media presence. She loves being a “communicator” and enjoys networking and collaborating with the passionate people and agencies in the health advocacy field. See her current articles.