From free transportation to free language assistance: Connecting Medi-Cal Dental providers with patients

June 7, 2023
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Quick Summary:
Learn how far the Medi-Cal Dental Program has come in the last few years. CDA has been at the center of the push to improve the program and is pleased with the historic improvements that include increased reimbursement rates, expansion of patient benefits and simplified provider enrollment. Learn about other services available to your Medi-Cal patients, including language translation and free transportation to and from appointments, as well as education and training to help dentists establish and care for patients and follow program policies and procedures.

Updated Jan. 17, 2024, to include information about Medi-Cal eligibility for undocumented individuals.

Dentists enrolled as Medi-Cal Dental providers may not be aware of all the services available to their patients, as well as to the dental team to help them establish patients and provide care free of charge.

Dentists who are not yet enrolled as providers may wish to review these services to learn how far the Medi-Cal Dental Program has come in the last few years. CDA has been at the center of the push to improve the program and is pleased with the historic improvements made over the past decade, including increased reimbursement rates, restoration and expansion of patient benefits and simplified provider enrollment.

In addition, Medi-Cal coverage became available to eligible undocumented adults between ages 26 and 49 in California beginning Jan. 1, 2024, making California the first U.S. state to offer comprehensive health care to undocumented individuals of all ages. Undocumented individuals under age 26 and adults ages 50 and over had already gained access to Medi-Cal through the state's first two coverage expansions. Dentists in California may see an influx of undocumented individuals who may have a need for free language translation and other services available to them.

Continue reading to learn about the new and important ongoing services for Medi-Cal Dental patients and providers.

Free transportation to and from appointments for Medi-Cal patients

A lack of transportation can mean missed health care appointments for patients. Since 2018, transportation to and from medical and dental appointments has been provided for free to all Medi-Cal patients. Here are the two main types of transportation services that are available:

  • Nonemergency medical transportation is available for patients who cannot use public or private transportation for reasons such as needing a wheelchair van. Dentists can prescribe NEMT and find transportation for patients through the list of approved NEMT providers organized by county, or they can call 1.858.495.3666 to coordinate transportation for patients who are unable to locate NEMT in their area. 
  • Nonmedical transportation is for patients who can travel without medical assistance but have no other means of transportation. NMT includes taxicabs and private or public transportation services available only through the approved transportation providers found on this list. In addition, NMT can transport patients to pick up prescriptions, medical supplies or equipment. Patients can request these services directly from their medical managed care plans or call 800.322.6384.

Providers and patients should coordinate transportation services as soon as possible before an appointment. The Department of Health Care Services provides more information on transportation services. 

Language assistance available by phone and in person

Interpreter services are available to all Medi-Cal patients at no charge. Dentists can download and display in their office or give Medi-Cal patients a copy of the “interpretation services available” flyer  to inform them about these services. The one-pager is written in multiple languages and lets Medi-Cal patients know they should indicate if they need interpreter services.

The Department of Health Care Services offers:

  • On-demand interpreters for approximately 250 languages through the telephone service center. These on-demand services are available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and cannot be scheduled ahead of time. See the DHCS’s Provider Bulletin (page 12) for details on how to access.
  • In-person interpreters are available and must be requested in advance. Availability varies by county.
  • American Sign Language translators are available for in-person service at the time of the patient’s appointment but must be scheduled prior to the appointment. 

Patients and dental office staff can request any of these language assistance services. To avoid delays and allow time to obtain language interpreter services during an appointment, providers are encouraged to identify if a Medi-Cal patient needs language assistance when scheduling an appointment. Dentists can request the service for Medi-Cal patients through the provider service center at 800.423.0507, and patients can call 800.322.6384 to request service.  

Patients in dental managed care programs (all Medi-Cal enrollees residing in Sacramento and San Mateo counties and some in Los Angeles County) should be directed to their dental plan’s member service department to access the transportation and language assistance benefits described above. 

Training on procedures, billing and more for Medi-Cal Dental providers

The Medi-Cal Dental Program offers in-person seminars and a wide array of virtual webinars for dentists and staff. Seminars are available year-round and cover the most current Medi-Cal Dental Program criteria, policies and procedures. Topics covered in seminars and workshops include Medi-Cal billing for staff, procedures codes and requirements, and more. 

C.E. credits are available at most in-person and virtual webinars available through the Medi-Cal Dental Program. More information, including a current schedule of seminars, is available on the provider training webpage. 

Expansion of teledentistry will increase access, improve coordinated care

Effective May 1, 2023, teledentistry increases access to care by reducing barriers and meeting patients where they are. As a result of recent policy changes, Medi-Cal providers will have the flexibility to establish new patients through synchronous and asynchronous telehealth modalities consistent with federally qualified health centers and rural health clinic providers. 

Also known as store-and-forward, asynchronous telehealth allows a trained dental hygienist or assistant to collect or store diagnostic information about the patient and forward the data to a collaborating dentist so that a diagnosis and treatment plan can be made and completed by the hygienist. This method of care can also result in a coordinated referral if the treatment plan requires an in-person visit with a dentist. These policy expansions build upon the success of the virtual dental home model. 

More information about the teledentistry expansion is available through the Medical Dental Manual of Criteria and the Medi-Cal Dental Provider Bulletin. 

California dentists can visit the DHCS’ Medi-Cal Dental provider page to learn more about the program’s services for providers, apply to become a provider, sign up to receive the Provider Bulletin and more.

Also see the article CDA published last fall detailing Medi-Cal Dental gains related to benefits, treatment options and case-management assistance.

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