A California state government organization has begun an audit and review of Denti-Cal, the dental care provider for more than 12.5 million California residents, after a scathing report showed more than half of children eligible for Denti-Cal didn't receive any dental care.
Denti-Cal is a sub program of Medi-Cal, designed for lower-income residents. The report was published in December 2014.
In response, lawmakers requested the Little Hoover Commission investigate and review the program to find solutions for Denti-Cal's glaring issues. The commission held its first hearing Thursday afternoon.
Many of the children who aren't able to receive care are special needs children, like 7-year-old Evan Alexander of Manteca.
He suffers extreme anxiety which, as his mom Erin says, makes doctor and dentist visits extremely tough. For any serious dental work, Evan needs to be under anesthesia.
"I've called Denti-Cal several times, they kept referring us to places that couldn't see us," Erin Alexander said.
Without Denti-Cal, the Alexander family would have to pay close to $1,200 out of pocket per visit, but Alexander says finding a Denti-Cal dentist who can work with special needs patients is difficult.
Alexander has a folder full of files of dental offices that won’t see her son.
"They either didn't see special needs kids, didn't give the anesthesia my son needed or were so far away that my son couldn't handle driving there," Erin Alexander said.
Evan is one of 2.5 million kids eligible for Denti-Cal dental care who hasn't gotten any care at all.
"So you have more and more people becoming eligible, at the very same time you have fewer dentists that want to take this, said Carole D'Elia, executive director of the Little Hoover Commission.
D'Elia said dentists don’t have any real incentive to treat Denti-Cal patients like Evan.
"The reimbursement rate for providers in California is about 30 cents on the dollar from what they'd get from the commercial sector," D'Elia said.
She also says the extra certification and paperwork for a dentist to be able to provide for Denti-Cal patients is, in itself, a deterrent.
Certain California counties have very few Denti-Cal options, others like Amador County, have none.
D'Elia says more state funding might be part of the solution.
"How much money, we don't know. What would be the magic number, does anyone know what that is, has anyone studied it?” D’Elia asked.
Funding is just one of the issues the commission will take up. D'Elia said the commission will consider what other states have done with dental and health care alternatives.
Officials with the California Department of Health Care Services said the agency welcomes the review.
"It helps to make us more accountable to the program. It's hard for me to say what it will look like, I think there will be changes. But changes do take time," said Rene Mollow, who testified on behalf of Denti-Cal at the first commission hearing Thursday afternoon.
Mollow says the Department of Health Services' goal is to help the 2.5 million kids eligible for Denti-Cal use it. No one is more hopeful for that end than Alexander.