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Medi-Cal, Denti-Cal Doctors Left Wondering about Prop 56 Money

SACRAMENTO -- Ask any smoker in California and they'll make it clear -- they are paying up.

In the next year, $1.7 billion dollars will be collected by the tobacco tax hike voters overwhelmingly approved in November. But what the state will actually do with that money is still unclear.

According to the text of Proposition 56, those tax dollars are supposed to go toward dental care, Medi-Cal, smoking prevention programs and cancer research.

"In California, 11 of our counties have not one dentist able to treat Denti-Cal patients," Dr. John Luther, a Western Dental dentist, told FOX40.

Luther was one of the state's dentists and medical doctors expecting the money to be spent on their patients, those being treated through Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal. Right now, doctors are paid 71 percent less when they treat those patients, compared to patients with private insurance.

But when the Governor's budget came out, there was no money for increasing Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal reimbursements.

"So the administration is actually disagreeing with the plain language reading of Prop 56," Luther said.

Instead, the governor's budget was using the cash to enroll more people in state healthcare, not increase what doctors get for treating those people.

Then, Tuesday morning, an 11th-hour comprise.

"We invested money. No doubt about it. Not as much as some of our doctors wanted, some of our dentist's wanted. I hear them, and I actually agree with them 100 percent," Senate President pre Tem Kevin de Leon said.

$546 million of the $1.7 billion this year will go to reimbursements for Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal, which will be renegotiated each year.