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Message to dentists from Dr. Reggiardo, executive director of CSPD, about the CalHealthCares program

January 07, 2020 4244

I love spreading good news, and the CalHealthCares professional education loan repayment program is about the best news for current pediatric dental residents and recent post-doctoral alumni I can imagine. In July 2019, the program, funded through Proposition 56 tobacco tax revenues and administered through contract by the Department of Health Care Services, awarded $10 million in student debt relief to 38 California dentists.

The second application cycle for the CalHealthCares student loan repayment and practice support grant opens Jan. 13, and Paul Reggiardo, DDS, executive director of the California Society of Pediatric Dentistry, is getting the word out. He spoke recently with Miguel Padilla, DMD, one of 38 dentists who received a CalHealthCares student loan repayment in 2019, and he shared that conversation in the Fall 2019 CSPD Bulletin. That article is reprinted here with permission. (Dr. Reggiardo addresses pediatric dentists in his message to CSPD members, but the CalHealthCares program is open to all eligible general and specialty dentists, as well as eligible physicians.)

I love spreading good news, and the CalHealthCares professional education loan repayment program is about the best news for current pediatric dental residents and recent post-doctoral alumni I can imagine. In July 2019, the program, funded through Proposition 56 tobacco tax revenues and administered through contract by the Department of Health Care Services, awarded $10 million in student debt relief to 38 California dentists in exchange for their agreement to maintain a 30% or greater Medi-Cal beneficiary caseload for five years of practice. Three CSPD members were among the first-round award recipients, one of whom, Dr. Miguel Padilla, agreed to share his experience with your executive director.

First a little background on Dr. Padilla, who completed residency training at UCLA in July 2016 after undergraduate education at Cal Berkeley (majoring in molecular environmental biology) and earning both his dental degree and a master’s in public health at the University of Pennsylvania.

Miguel was born in Mexico and, after migrating with his parents to the United States at age two, was raised in the central California community of Modesto. He credits the UCLA program with providing a rich texture of clinical experience in community outreach, including rotations in local WIC, Head Start and Early Head Start, and safety net clinics, as central to setting the course of his professional career.

I asked Dr. Padilla about his student debt and the opportunities unlocked by the CalHealthCares award.

I was in debt for over $300,000 in student loans. My initial plan was to put aside a good portion of my salary over a 15-year span by working in two to three offices to pay off this obligation. I will now be able to retire my loans within five years, working in a single office where I can focus on the underserved population.

I was in my first year out of residency at UCLA, working in three offices (two of which did not accept Denti-Cal reimbursement), when I received an email notification about the CalHealthCares program. I applied immediately.

Dr. Padilla now practices in his hometown of Modesto, where he describes his daily clinical experience as one of fulfilling his grandest vision of community service.

I was raised in this community. The award has made my dreams a reality. I am able to help where my education and skill set are utilized no matter the [patient’s] type of insurance or [economic] background. Having this financial burden lifted will allow me to practice the way I see my community deserves.

Many pediatric dentists are hesitant to participate in the Medi-Cal Dental Program. Grants like this encourage and make it possible to be more open to this underserved population. My postdoctoral training has taught me to establish relationships with pediatricians as the gatekeepers to children's health. My plan is to establish a presence at community health centers and to educate nurses, physicians and medical staff on the importance of infant and child dental health.

Application for the second round of CalHealthCares awards, designed to expand access to care for Medi-Cal beneficiaries, opens Jan. 13. Eligible dentists may apply for either educational loan repayment up to $300,000 in exchange for a five-year service obligation (as did Dr. Padilla) or a practice support grant of up to $300,000 for establishing, expanding or relocating a practice in specific counties with the highest patient need for Medi-Cal dental services. Those target counties are: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Inyo, Kings, Lasses, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, Monterey, Sierra, Trinity and Yuba. The practice support grant carries a 10-year obligation to maintain a minimum patient caseload of 30% or more Medi-Cal beneficiaries. 

Applicants, who may be current licensed practitioners or in dental residency training, must meet certain criteria. For loan repayment applicants, criteria include:

  • Have an unrestricted dental license, practice in California and be in current good standing with the Dental Board of California (For dental students or residents, this must be true as of June 30, 2020)
  • Be an active enrolled Medi-Cal provider without existing suspensions, disbarments or revocations or have submitted an application to become a Medi-Cal dental provider (For dental students or residents, this must be true as of June 30, 2020)
  • Graduated from an accredited dental school or dental residency program or completed a fellowship degree in the last five years (on or after Jan. 1, 2015)
  • Have existing educational loan debt incurred while pursuing a dental degree
  • Not currently participating in another loan repayment program
  • Maintain, if awarded, a patient caseload of 30% or more Medi-Cal beneficiaries for five years

For practice support grant applicants, criteria include the first two above plus:

  • Submit a valid business plan
  • Graduated from an accredited dental school or dental residency program or completed a fellowship degree in the last 15 years (on or after Jan. 1, 2005)
  • Not currently participating in another loan repayment program or practice support grant
  • Maintain, if awarded, a patient caseload of 30% or more Medi-Cal beneficiaries for five years
  • Relocate current practice to establish a new office in one of the targeted counties

More information about the required business plan is available at www.calhealthcares.org, as are registration links to six informational webinars. The application period runs Jan. 13 through Feb. 7, with notification to successful awardees expected in early May.

Dr. Padilla described the application process as “easy and straightforward” and the subsequent steps following notification of his award as “transparent and fair.”

Dentists interested in the program can apply through the CalHealthCares website and may subscribe to notifications about the grants by emailing CalHealthCares@phcdocs.org with “subscribe” in the subject line.

I plan on following the 2020 award cycle and hope to be reporting to you here next year on another life-changing experience for one (or more) of our CSPD members. Stay tuned.

Paul Reggiardo, DDS
Executive Director, California Society of Pediatric Dentistry

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