CDA fights for increased funding of dental programs in state budget

As the annual state budget process begins to unfold in the legislature, CDA is advocating on a variety of significant issues, ranging from funding a state dental director, improving Denti-Cal reimbursement rates and maintaining or restoring the state's public oral health program infrastructure.

The budget process is a multistage one that begins in January with the release of the governor's proposed budget and is expected to be completed by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Both houses of the legislature have budget committees and subject area subcommittees that hold public hearings throughout the first part of the year, after which the final budget is put together through leadership-level negotiations between the legislature and the governor.

This year, CDA's top advocacy priority in the budget process is the establishment of a state dental director position within the Department of Public Health. CDA offered testimony last month at a hearing of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services that a state dental director would provide a comprehensive statewide approach to coordinating oral health programs, and would also create an ability that does not exist today to bring in significant federal dollars for public oral health programs. This could lead to the creation of new programs that would expand access to oral health services, and could help restore funding for programs, such as the Children's Dental Disease Prevention Program, that were the victims of budget cuts during the economic downturn.

CDA also provided public testimony last month for increasing Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates. Although adult dental benefits are being restored in May, provider reimbursement rates that already were among the lowest in the nation also now are subject to the 10 percent reduction enacted several years ago and implemented in October 2013. At another Assembly budget subcommittee hearing last month, John Blake, DDS, dental director of the nonprofit Children's Dental Health Clinic in Long Beach and a member of CDA's Policy Development Council, testified that his clinic is "at the breaking point," and that it is staying afloat only because of donations and fundraising, a situation that is not sustainable.

Finally, CDA also is working to assure continuation of the state's longstanding policy and infrastructure support for community water fluoridation. As part of his budget proposal, Gov. Jerry Brown is calling for the transfer of the state's drinking water programs from the Department of Public Health (DPH) to the state Water Resources Control Board. DPH currently provides staff support for community water fluoridation efforts throughout the state, and thus CDA testimony in each house last month advocated for the maintenance of that state support for fluoridation as the larger program shift is carried out.

CDA will continue to be actively engaged in the budget process on all of these issues in the weeks ahead, and will keep members informed through the Update and on cda.org. Questions may be directed to CDA's Public Policy Department at 916.554.4970.