Calif. kids' dental program not meeting needs

A new model for delivering dental care to poor California children that was supposed to control costs and improve children's ability to see a dentist has fallen far short of expectations.

Nearly two decades ago, the state made Sacramento County the testing ground for a new model intended to improve children's oral health. But new data show the county has consistently produced one of California's worst records for care, according to a story in the Sacramento Bee.

Critics say the program forces many children to wait months or even years before receiving treatment, even if they have broken or rotting teeth or are in so much pain that they can't chew.

In 2011, only a third of more than 110,000 Sacramento County children with Medi-Cal saw a dentist. In comparison, nearly half of the state's Medi-Cal children got dental care.

Last year, the county ranked third worst in terms of the percentage of kids who got care in the state. During the three previous years, it was the state's lowest performing children's dental system.

Dentists blame the "geographic managed care" program that the state imposed on the county 18 years ago. Under that model, which is unique in California, the state pays private dental plans in Sacramento a monthly fee -- currently about $12 -- for each Medi-Cal child assigned to them. The amount paid is the same whether or not the child sees a dentist.

Sacramento is the only county in the state where this program is mandatory; in other counties, dentists bill the state for each Medi-Cal visit in a "fee-for-service" model.

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