Bringing Smiles to Developmentally Disabled Children: Guest Commentary

By Joel Strom; Kim Klein | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), April 22, 2016 | Go to article overview

Bringing Smiles to Developmentally Disabled Children: Guest Commentary


Joel Strom; Kim Klein, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that includes about $300 million in funding to provide health care services for the developmentally disabled. The state must now decide where exactly to spend this money -- and officials should ensure that some of it goes to providing much-needed dental care for developmentally disabled children.

The bill in question, a collection of tax incentives, was originally put together to "avoid the impending loss of $1 billion in federal funding" for a rapidly growing Medi-Cal caseload, according to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. While this action did, indeed, help all Californians by allocating $1.3 billion dollars for health care, the state must now decide where to allocate this money. One crucial yet often overlooked area is the large number of disadvantaged children who still need to obtain access to dental services.

This problem was never supposed to exist in the first place. The creation of Covered California under the Affordable Care Act has provided many of the most financially burdened Californians the opportunity to sign up for dental insurance. The majority sign up for Denti-Cal, which is Medi-Cal for dental treatment. Yet for a variety of reasons, this new coverage option doesn't always lead to patients receiving the care they need. This is especially true for kids with development disabilities such as autism or cerebral palsy, for example. Why?

The answer is simple: There aren't enough dentists participating in this program. In order to actually receive health care, there must be a professional willing to provide that health care to these patients. But fewer and fewer dentists are willing to participate in state-run programs such as Denti-Cal. Finding a participating dentist is increasingly problematic.

There are a number of factors contributing to this problem, but perhaps the main reason why so many dentists do not accept these patients is that the Denti-Cal program offers only reimbursement rates that hover around 30 percent of the national average. This despite the far greater overhead, regulatory and tax costs for California's dentists when compared to most other states. It should not be surprising that dentists, who are primarily small-business owners, have a difficult time trying to develop business models that will allow them to provide care for the least fortunate and still keep the doors open.

In fact, The California Healthcare Foundation's Center for Health Reporting confirm that only about 25 percent of all dentists accept Denti-Cal patients, and only a small percentage of this 25 percent are pediatric dentists. …

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