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Economy Takes a Big Bite Out of CA Dental Care

November 18, 2011

LOS ANGELES - Going to the dentist is becoming more difficult for low-income patients in California and across the nation. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently approved the reduction of a number of Medi-Cal benefits including dental care for adults.

Howard Kahn, chief executive officer of L.A. Care Health Plan, says the economy has created a triple whammy for many Californians.

"People have lost their jobs. You've got people who have previously had dental coverage through Medi-Cal, with Medi-Cal cutting off adult dental coverage. Finally, you've got folks who are employed whose employers have been decreasing their coverage because the costs are getting so high."

It's more important than ever, Kahn says, that safety-net clinics have the tools they need to care for the state's low-income patients. He says free or affordable dental care may decrease emergency hospital visits and save lives by preventing serious health diseases and conditions that stem from poor oral health, including respiratory disease, diabetes and heart disease.

In the South and Metro Service Areas of Los Angeles, Kahn says, nearly 80 percent are without dental coverage.

"It's a vicious circle. If you have illnesses, your dental health-care problems become worse, and if you have dental problems it increases your chances of greater illness, for example, with diabetes."

To help address the problem, L.A. Care Health Plan is awarding $635,000 in grants to 16 Los Angeles County safety-net clinics. That's expected to provide more than 10,000 dental procedures for free or at affordable prices over the next year and a half. The money will also go toward state-of-the-art dental equipment, a mobile dental clinic and software systems.

More information is online at lacare.org.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA