Medi-Cal site connects patients to dentists but needs updating

A small survey by the Children's Partnership (TCP) has found that nearly 10% of the dentists listed as Medi-Cal providers on California's online resource do not accept Medi-Cal or cannot take new Medi-Cal patients, despite the website stating they did. Medi-Cal is the state's Medicaid program.

TCP's goal was to "assess the accuracy and reliability" of the website's information, find out if the Medi-Cal dentists actually take or can take Medi-Cal patients, ascertain how well Spanish speakers could be served, and find out which Medi-Cal dentists take both young and older children.

Other issues surfaced in the survey of 220 phone calls made, in which one of two callers acted as the father of two children (ages 3 and 10) enrolled in Medi-Cal and wanted to make dental appointments for both children. Of the total calls, 145 were answered by an individual. Among the 131 providers who were reached on the phone and accepted Medi-Cal, 19% denied services to one of the two children in question due to their age. "Notably, 16% refused to treat the 3-year-old," the report stated.

Of those providers, 31% explained caveats for care. If the child was uncooperative or had behavioral problems, he or she would not be treated but referred to a specialist. Five providers said they would only perform a visual exam.

In 54 calls, Spanish speakers had difficulty reaching a Spanish speaker on the provider's end 26% of the time. In addition, 9% of the practices were listed as general dentists but were actually specialists.

However, there was some positive news reported. "In the 52% of instances in which the callers were able to ask for an appointment, 95% were available within one month," the survey authors wrote.

TCP urged Medi-Cal to enroll a sufficient number of providers in the program to serve its patients, to update its site and add information about the ages each practice will treat, and to "track Medi-Cal-enrolled children's access to dental care through all available channels." It also urged the organization to work with stakeholders to find ways to bring oral healthcare to children enrolled in Medi-Cal.

The number of children expected to be enrolled in Medi-Cal will rise to more than 5 million by the end of 2013, when nearly 900,000 children will complete their transition from California's Healthy Families Program to Medi-Cal, according to the TCP. In addition, 460,000 additional children currently eligible but not enrolled in Medi-Cal. Many of these children are expected to enroll when open enrollment through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act begins in October 2013 and all Californians will be focused on enrolling in health coverage.

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