$300K opportunity for dentists who relocate, commit to Medi-Cal

September 24, 2019

April 22, 2024: The CalHealthCares program is not currently accepting applications. Cohort-5 awardees were announced in March. CDA will keep dentists informed about potential future funding for the program.

September 2019: California dentists who are willing to relocate, expand or establish a new practice to an area of highest patient need and commit to serving Medi-Cal beneficiaries for at least 10 years can apply in January 2020 to receive up to $300,000 in grant funding through the state’s CalHealthCares program to support related costs.

Announced earlier this year, the Medi-Cal Physicians and Dentists Loan Repayment Program, which is overseen by the Department of Health Care Services and administered through Physicians for a Healthy California, is funded through tobacco tax revenue and is designed to expand access to care for Medi-Cal patients. Awardees must agree to relocate, expand or establish a new practice to one of a few specific counties in California that have the highest need for dental practices that treat Medi-Cal dental patients. After practice relocation, awardees are required to maintain a minimum patient caseload of 30% or more Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

In 2019, the first year of the program, 17 counties were identified as highest need and eligible for relocation: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Inyo, Kings, Lassen, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, Monterey, Sierra, Trinity and Yuba. Other target counties may be announced for the 2020 application cycle.

‘Great need for new dentists’ in Humboldt County

Spread over 4,000-plus square miles of coastal and inland zones, Humboldt County is mostly known for its dense redwood forests, protected parks and beaches, small dairy farms and a natural landscape well-suited to outdoor recreation. The county is also home to the city of Arcata and Humboldt State University, which has nationally recognized programs in natural resources and science.

Laura McEwen, program services coordinator for Humboldt County Health and Human Services, says it’s also a place that welcomes innovation.

“We have our cities or small communities along the coast: McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna, but we have a lot of inland area as well, and it’s tremendously underserved,” McEwen said. “So if dentists are interested in doing mobile dentistry or setting up remote sites, we encourage that creative thought.”

McEwen said there’s also a nice comradery among public health, private practice and clinic dentistry.

“We’ve all been working together for a number of years, and understanding these relationships is really helpful when relocating or establishing a practice. If dentists are looking for innovation, using greater technology and working with other dental professionals, Humboldt County is a happening place,” she said.

Dentists who relocate their practice to Humboldt County with a CalHealthCares grant will also find it easy to meet their Medi-Cal commitment. As a highest-need county, about 51,000 of the county’s 130,000 residents are Medi-Cal eligible. Of those, 33,000 are age 20 and older. Because the county’s six federally qualified health centers primarily serve children, adults in the Medi-Cal Dental Program are especially underserved.

“Need and opportunity here really go hand in hand,” McEwen said. “Dentists have numerous opportunities to start, relocate or expand a practice that serves at least 30% Medi-Cal patients.”

Robert Berg, DDS, practiced dentistry in Humboldt County for more than 40 years and now works with the county providing oral health screenings for children in preschool and kindergarten. He stressed that patient need goes well beyond the Medi-Cal-covered population as general dentists and specialists are in short supply; the county has just one endodontist, one oral surgeon and one periodontist, and a large number of dentists are nearing retirement.

“We have a great need for new dentists up here,” Dr. Berg said. “There’s such a need for dentists that nobody really has to buy a practice. Many retiring dentists are willing to sell their equipment and maybe lease the building if they own it but are otherwise willing to give away their practice.”

Berg left San Francisco in 1973 for a position serving the Yurok Tribe at a community clinic in Humboldt County. At the time, he didn’t expect his stay in the county to be long-term, but he came to love the area and never returned to San Francisco. His three grown children, two of whom went away to attend college, also reside with their families in Humboldt County.

“When you talk to people who’ve relocated here, you’ll find that the friendliness of the people is high on the list of reasons they like it here,” Berg said. “And of course, there are all of the outdoor activities. We have the Trinity Alps, the Lost Coast and everything from skiing to surfing, all in the same day if you want! If this area suits you, you’re going to thrive up here.”

Applicant requirements and resources

Applicants will be required to submit a business relocation plan and documentation to support the cost of relocating, expanding or establishing a new practice. Additionally, applicants must practice in California and:

  • Have an unrestricted license and currently be in good standing with the Dental Board of California
  • Be an active enrolled Medi-Cal Dental Program provider without existing suspensions, disbarments or revocations
  • Have graduated from dental school, residency or dental fellowship within the last 15 years (on or later than Jan. 1, 2005)
  • Not be participating currently in another loan repayment program or practice support grant
  • Maintain their individual direct patient caseload composed of a minimum of 30% Medi-Cal beneficiaries for a 10-year service obligation

The applicant’s business plan, patient caseload and personal statement rank the highest during scoring. CalHealthCares will score submitted business plans that include detailed information about the applicant’s existing practice, prospective practice location and plans to meet the required minimum caseload of 30% or more Medi-Cal beneficiaries. Business plans are expected to include a revenue forecast or financial plan.

The CalHealthCares website provides business plan guidelines in a downloadable one-page document. Dentists will want to follow these guidelines to ensure their business plans are considered valid and to increase their overall application scores.

CDA Practice Support offers resources to members who are developing a new business plan, as well as resources to help members during and after relocation, including “Separating From Practice Checklist,” “Production Goal Calculator,” “Financial Due Diligence is a Must!” and various marketing and patient management resources.

CalHealthCares encourages dentists who applied for the practice support grant in spring 2019 but were not awarded to reapply in 2020. First-time applicants as well as returning applicants can improve their scores by reading the application instructions manual, reviewing the documents available on the CalHealthCares website and attending or watching a recorded webinar. The webinars address required criteria and the reasons the 2019 applicants were deemed ineligible for the award. Physicians for a Healthy California will be holding a webinar specifically on the practice support grant to assist all applicants in applying. Check its website for more information as the application launch date gets closer.

The application period opens Jan. 13 and closes Feb. 7 with awardees expected to be notified of selection on or around May 1. The awards will be distributed over each recipient’s commitment period.

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

Student loan repayment program

Eligible dentists, physicians, dental students, dental residents, medical residents and medical fellows may also apply in January 2020 for the CalHealthCares student loan repayment program. In July, the program awarded $10 million in debt relief to 38 dentists in exchange for their agreement to maintain a 30% or more Medi-Cal beneficiary caseload for five years. Additionally, 240 physicians received loan repayment awards in this first year of the program, which is funded by Proposition 56, the voter-approved tobacco tax that CDA and other health care organizations sponsored in 2016. The 2018 and 2019 Budget Acts secured this funding for the program through fiscal year 2023-24.

CDA will remind dentists about the upcoming application period on cda.org, CDA’s social media pages and in future issues of the Update.

Visit CalHealthCares for complete eligibility requirements, recorded webinars, business plan guidelines and more information about the CalHealthCares program. For the CDA Practice Support resources cited in this article, visit the CDA Resource Library.


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