Pilot "Single-Payer" Dental Program Has Major Flaws, Review Finds

A single-payer pilot dental program has been operating in Sacramento County for 18 years, and a review by The Sacramento Bee found that the county consistently provides one of the worst records for care.

Under this pilot project, the state (the single payer) gives $5 million to five dental plans in the county to provide services to children under Medi-Cal. The plans get $12 per child, whether or not services are provided. The result of this spending: Only 30 percent of eligible children in Sacramento County saw a dentist annually, compared to 50 percent statewide.

According to The Bee: "Critics – including local dentists, county officials, school nurses and family members – contend that Sacramento's special model of care forces many children to wait months or even years before receiving needed treatment, even if they have broken or rotting teeth, or are in so much pain that they can't chew."

One of the examples cited involves 6-year-old Christina Romero, who was told by her dental office that she would have to wait more than a month for treatment, even though she had a fever and a toothache so severe it was causing her to miss school.

Another patient, 18-year-old Stephanie Erickson, endured a painful broken tooth for years while her mother says she begged dental offices to perform an extraction.

Sacramento County is the only county where this program has been in operation.

In response to The Bee's story, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg has called for a state review of the program.

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