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door.jpgSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is calling for a state review of a Sacramento County pilot program that provides state-funded dental coverage for low-income children.

A Center for Health Reporting article published in The Bee over the weekend detailed the shortcomings of the managed care program, including long wait times and comparatively low rates of dental care among the more than 110,000 Sacramento County children covered by the program.

In a letter to California Department of Health Care Services Director Toby Douglas, Steinberg called for immediate action to address what he called a "crisis in prevention and treatment services."

"Despite that state funding, disturbing specific patient cases as well as the department's own data cited in the article make it abundantly clear that prevention and treatment services are woefully inadequate for those children most in need," the Sacramento Democrat wrote in the letter.

In addition to the investigation, Steinberg asked the administration to step up its monitoring of dental plans under contract with the program and withhold payments or cancel contracts with plans that fail to provide proper access to care or meet other performance standards.

Under the "geographic managed care" program, which is mandatory in Sacramento County, the state pays private dental plans a monthly fee to cover services for children enrolled in Medi-Cal. The program began a test-run in Sacramento County in 1994, but was never expanded or canceled.

Steinberg wrote in the letter that issues with the program "raise the overarching concern of whether or not the state is prepared and equipped to proceed with any Medi-Cal managed care program expansions this year as proposed in the Governor's January budget." The Democratic governor has proposed shifting hundreds of thousands of residents eligible for both Medi-Cal and Medicare into managed care plans. His office says the change would save the state $679 million.

Steinberg Letter

RELATED STORIES:

'Model' dental program proves painful for kids


Photo Gallery: Children forced to wait months for county dental care

PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle Kucera, D.D.S., left, opens the door for her patient, Julia Lara, 9, as her twin sisters Ebelin Lara, left in doorway, and Emily Lara, right, 4, anxiously await following an exam at the Effort's Oak Park dental clinic, where a vast majority of kids they see are on Denti-Cal.



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