From budget cuts, a mouthful of problems..

While we await the federal government’s decisions about Medi-Cal cuts made earlier this year, what’s the impact of the cuts made in previous years?

The elimination of dental benefits for 3 million Californians–cuts made in 2009–is the subject of a profile by Anna Gorman of the LA Times. And the results are ugly. Here’s a clip:

But in the two years since California sharply reduced dental benefits for roughly 3 million Medi-Cal recipients, he and other dentists say the situation has become dire for patients who are waiting until their infections land them in an emergency room or their rotted teeth have to be immediately pulled.

“They aren’t coming until the mouth is completely swelled up or the pain cannot be tolerated,” Murthy said.

Dental care is the oft-ignored cousin of medical care, experts say. Because dental coverage is an optional benefit under the federal Medicaid program for the nation’s poor, several states don’t offer it. Others, like California, have slashed the benefit in recent years, meaning millions nationwide are going without treatment and facing heightened risks of serious and costly health problems like respiratory infections and heart disease.

One-third of Americans reported skipping dental checkups and care because of the cost, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in April. And a report by the national Institute of Medicine in July said “persistent, systemic” barriers, including lack of insurance and a shortage of dentists, are increasingly limiting people’s access to dental care and exacerbating socioeconomic disparities in public health. The report urged states to include dental coverage for adults with Medicaid and recommended better training so primary care doctors can spot oral diseases.

If we ever get out of this budget crisis, this is a cut that needs to be reversed. In the meantime, we can’t make additional cuts to make this situation worse.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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