Bill Would Boost Pay for California Dentists Who Treat Poor Patients

Dentists in California currently are compensated at about a third of what other American dentists make for treating the poor.

California dentists who participate in the state’s dental program for the poor would receive more compensation for their work under a bill making its way through the state’s legislature.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports that the Republican-sponsored legislation would tap into the state’s newly created tobacco tax to provide more funding for the program, called Denti-Cal. According to KHN, Calif. dentists currently have some of the lowest reimbursement rates in the nation, and those rates have been stagnant since 2001. The health news agency puts the figure at about a third of what dentists elsewhere in the country bring in for similar work.

The low reimbursement rates have sparked a drop-off in dentist participation in Denti-Cal, according to a report by the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight panel. The shortage has led to an “epidemic of tooth disease in which toddlers by the thousands have mouthfuls of cavities,” the panel’s report reads.

In California, dentists who accept Denti-Cal typically get about $15 for an exam. The nationwide average for exams stands at $45.61, according to data gathered by the state in 2015.

Under the bill, reimbursements rates would be hiked for 15 common procedures, such as cleanings and fillings. KHN says that the legislation would bring the rates in line with what other dentists in the U.S. are making, and it would take effect in 2018.

Denti-Cal, KHN says, currently serves about 13 million Calif. citizens. In 2014, KHN reports, a state auditor’s report found that only 44 percent of children covered under Denti-Cal say a dentist in the previous year.

“The review also found that there were no Denti-Cal providers in five counties and in 11 other counties Denti-Cal providers were not accepting new patients,” the news report says.