Dental crisis looms for Calif. Medi-Cal kids

The Children's Partnership (TCP) has released an issue brief and action plan addressing the challenges Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program, faces in providing dental care to children in the state.

The issue brief also stresses the impact that newly enrolled children will have on the state's strained dental care system.

With the transition of children in the Healthy Families Program over to Medi-Cal, coupled with the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more than 1 million additional children in California will be enrolled in Medi-Cal's dental program by 2014, according to TCP.

This is an almost 25% increase in the number of children currently covered by Medi-Cal's dental program and will mean that approximately 5 million children -- roughly half of all children in California -- will receive their dental care through Medi-Cal.

Currently, children enrolled in Medi-Cal are not getting the dental care they need. In 2011, almost half of children younger than age 21 enrolled in Medi-Cal's dental program did not receive a dental checkup or treatment. This is largely due to the fact that, while California has a large number of dentists, the state has relatively few who accept Medi-Cal.

According to the most recent data available, just over a third of California dentists accepted any Medi-Cal patients at all. Given the existing problems with dental access in Medi-Cal, California urgently needs to ask whether Medi-Cal is ready to treat the 1 million additional children who will gain dental coverage during the next year.

"California's Medi-Cal dental system is already struggling to serve children and is unprepared for what's to come," stated Wendy Lazarus, founder and co-president of TCP, in a press release.

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