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Lawmakers Consider Restoring Dental Care to Medi-Cal

June 10, 2013

Woman with Perfect Smile

photo by Wagner Cesar Munhoz (Orofacial) | Flickr.com

by Amber Zhai
 
When the economy was in its most precarious state in 2009, California eliminated dental care benefits for low-income residents with Medi-Cal in order to address budget deficits. But now that we have passed the worst of the crisis, many lawmakers are in favor of reinstating those lost benefits.
 
The Senate Budget Committee has unanimously voted to restore dental care to the state’s low-income residents and pump $130 million back into the program. However, the decision will ultimately be up to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has the power to veto any spending approved by lawmakers.

Gaps in Dental Care for the Poor

Due to the budget cuts to social services in 2009, 3 million low-income adults have no coverage for basic dental services, including exams, fillings, and dentures. The only service offered by the current plan is pulling teeth, leaving gaps in the smiles of a vast number of California’s poor.
 
According to KABC, people camp out in line for days when a free clinic is offered, displaying the great but unfulfilled need for dental care. In favor of reinstating dental benefits to Medi-Cal, state senator Rod Wright said, “I had three people…who got tired of waiting and violated their parole so that they could go back to prison to get tooth and dental care.”
 
KABC also interviewed LeAna Powell, a California resident personally affected by the lack of dental benefits. With a few teeth already missing, she doesn’t want any more pulled as she is looking for a job. “That will make it really hard for the interview process with missing teeth or with gaps,” said LeAna, demonstrating how the lack of social services for the poor only propagates poverty.

The Fight Over Money

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget revision so far does not make room for restorations to cuts in social services. Brown’s administration is advising against spending the money, believing that the economy is showing signs of slowing again.
 
However, the independent Legislative Analyst Office reportedly projects more tax revenue than the governor’s administration, and many Democrats are insisting that there are indeed federal funds available to meet this pressing need.

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