Loss of State Dental Benefits Will Hit Hard

Loss of State Dental Benefits Will Hit Hard

Beginning July 1, 2009, the state will end its adult Denti-Cal program — the state’s dental insurance program for its poorest residents. While many health advocates are still working to save this program, if it does end as scheduled, they predict it will create a painful hole in California’s health care safety net that could prove disastrous to fill later.

Statewide, the change will affect as many as 3 million adults, according to figures provided by the California HealthCare Foundation. This amounts to 15,000 to 20,000 adults in San Joaquin County alone, leaving these adults without dental benefits.

Many of these people may delay treatment because they cannot pay for it. Eventually, though, the treatment they will require will be more complex and expensive.

California is one of six states that offer this type of benefit to adults. The service will remain available to residents of nursing facilities.

The Denti-Cal program elimination was triggered recently when California failed to qualify for the full $10 billion federal stimulus package. It came up short by close to $1.8 billion, and several Medi-Cal optional benefits, including adult dental, chiropractic, incontinence creams and washes, acupuncture, audiology, optometry, podiatry, speech therapy and psychology services, were cut by the governor and the Legislature.

The loss of a safety net program for poor adults with dental needs is also bad news for California’s dental schools whose students receive training from working on patients, including many Denti-Cal recipients.

In addition, Denti-Cal is the primary payer source for many community health clinics, accounting for 50% to 80% of the payer source at a clinic, according to Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and chief executive officer of the California Primary Care Association, which represents the state’s nonprofit community clinics and health centers that serve some of its poorest residents.

As a result of the state’s move, more poor people will likely begin searching for other organizations such as faith-based organizations or other privately funded community medical centers.

People in search of other dental resources can contact their local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for a list of local programs. Some local Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Programs (HICAP) may also have a list of resources in their area. Click here for a list of offices statewide.

For more information on Medi-Cal programs for older adults and people with disabilities, see our website section:

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.