Capitol Alert

California Republican lawmakers want more for dental care program

In 2011, a dentist talks with a patient during an exam at the Effort's Oak Park dental clinic, where a vast majority of kids they see are on Denti-Cal. Legislative Republicans have asked Gov. Jerry Brown to propose $200 million additional money to increase Denti-Cal reimbursement rates.
In 2011, a dentist talks with a patient during an exam at the Effort's Oak Park dental clinic, where a vast majority of kids they see are on Denti-Cal. Legislative Republicans have asked Gov. Jerry Brown to propose $200 million additional money to increase Denti-Cal reimbursement rates. lsterling@sacbee.com

Republican legislative leaders want Gov. Jerry Brown to include $200 million in additional money for low-income dental services in the revised budget proposal he releases next week, saying the increase would help improve a program criticized as a “vicious circle of dysfunction” in a recent report.

Thursday’s letter to Brown from Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, and Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, cited an April report by the Little Hoover Commission that called the state’s Denti-Cal program a “bureaucratic backwater” that provides inadequate care to the 13 million Californians eligible for it.

The letter also noted a December 2014 state audit’s conclusion that more than half of the 5.1 million low-income children enrolled in Denti-Cal never received services and that some counties lack enough dentists willing to take Denti-Cal payments.

While Democratic lawmakers propose expanding state-funded child care programs and directing more money to increase the supply of affordable housing, “the shameful dysfunction of our existing Denti-Cal program continues to be ignored,” Fuller and Mayes wrote.

5.1 million Estimated number of children enrolled in the state’s low-income dental program

“We have children with rotting teeth, parents who don’t understand basic preventative care, and counties without any dentists who accept Denti-Cal,” they said. “The Legislature and administration must ensure that existing programs are operating efficiently and effectively before making new promises and spending commitments.”

Republicans also are pursuing the money outside of the budget process. Assembly Bill 1051, a newly amended measure by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, would allocate $200 million to Denti-Cal.

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown’s Department of Finance, said the administration continues to work on its May revision and declined to comment on the Republican letter. Funding for low-income dental services has improved in recent years, he said.

In 2014, lawmakers restored a 10 percent cut in Denti-Cal provider rates. Also, an effort called the dental transformation initiative will pull in $750 million over five years to to improve dental care for children on Medi-Cal.

Goals include helping children at particularly high risk of dental disease, increase the number of children receiving regular care, and other services to improve children’s access to dental care.

Increased Denti-Cal funding is among the most important issues for the the California Dental Association, which has given more than $1 million to both political parties and lawmakers in 2016, according to state records.

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