Hearing Asks if L.A.'s Children Have Access to Affordable Dentistry

November 15, 2012

SACRAMENTO – Policy experts, dentistry professionals and children's advocates described a growing gap between the need for quality dental care for Los Angeles County's children and the availability of that care – especially for children of low income households – at a Culver City legislative hearing on Friday. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of the Assembly's Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services presided at the district hearing, which was also attended by Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills).

Focusing mainly on children enrolled in Los Angeles Medi-Cal and Healthy Families programs, the hearing probed Medi-Cal's capacity to meet the dental needs of the additional 880,000 local kids it must soon absorb due to the elimination, for budgetary reasons, of the highly regarded Healthy Families Program. Whereas Medi-Cal primarily pays for health services for those in the lowest income brackets, Healthy Families enrolled children of families which earned twice the median poverty income.

Because our health care dollars are so scarce, the Legislature's oversight will be needed to ensure that children currently enrolled in Medi-Cal, and those transitioning from Healthy Families, get the dental care they need, said Mitchell. I am committed to making that happen.

The state's Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) is responsible not only for expanding Medi-Cal services to accommodate the incoming children, but for maintaining quality of care and the adequacy of the dental networks delivering it. Concerns were repeatedly voiced during the hearing about upholding standards of care, accompanied by near unanimous testimony that low treatment reimbursement rates and high levels of bureaucratic regulation already discourage dentists from treating Medi-Cal patients.

Among those testifying were Rene Mollow of DHCS; Ross Brown of the Legislative Analyst's Office; Dr. Jim Crass of Public Health and Community Dentistry at UCLA; Barbara Facher of the Alliance for Children's Rights; Nicette Short of the California Dental Association and Dr. John Blake of the Children's Dental Health Clinic.