As part of the finalized 2019-20 California state budget, the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a continuation of supplemental Medi-Cal provider rates, including significant dollars for dentists serving Medi-Cal patients. An additional $20 million was dedicated to dentists through a recently launched student loan repayment program.
The inclusion of these rates in the state budget is part of a continued investment in the state’s health care system, and this budget strengthens the Affordable Care Act by increasing access and coverage. Much of CDA’s advocacy work over the past few years has focused on improving the Medi-Cal Dental Program. One result is that $210 million in Proposition 56 revenues goes toward dental provider rates that, together with matching federal dollars, increase the rates paid to dentists by over $500 million per year. These numbers mean that hundreds of thousands more Californians will now be able to get reliable dental care.
The rates are funded by revenues generated from Proposition 56, the $2 per-pack tobacco tax passed by California voters in 2016. CDA and other health care providers worked to pass Proposition 56 with the goal of improving health outcomes for Californians who face barriers to care.
Proposition 56 revenues have successfully increased access to oral health care in Medi-Cal. Nearly a thousand dentists enrolled as new Medi-Cal providers in the first 18 months since the Proposition 56 rates went into effect, a 10% increase after years of stagnation. These funds are the first significant increase in dental reimbursements in decades. Hundreds of dental procedures receive supplemental payment, bringing total reimbursement for some common procedure codes to 75%-80% of average commercial rates.
Since the passage of Proposition 56, CDA has advocated for a long-term commitment to the increased reimbursement rates. CDA is pleased that this year’s budget deal provides multiple years of stability for these provider rates, continuing them through the end of 2021 with the potential for extension based on state revenues.
Stability in these rates beyond 2021 will be essential to preserve the momentum Proposition 56 has brought to improving Medi-Cal dental services. The continuation of these rates will help to ensure access to care for the more than 13 million Californians, including half of the state’s children, who now rely on Medi-Cal for their medical and dental coverage.
$50M total for dental loan repayment
CDA is especially pleased that the new budget also includes an additional $120 million in one-time funding from Proposition 56 for the CalHealthCares student loan repayment program, with $20 million dedicated for Medi-Cal dental providers. Added to the initial $30 million from last year, this new investment brings the total dental loan repayment to $50 million.
Under the program, recently graduated dentists are eligible for up to $300,000 of student loan repayment in exchange for five years treating at least 30% Medi-Cal patients. Dentists willing to relocate or open a new practice in 17 specific counties with the highest need for Medi-Cal providers are eligible for a special program offering a practice support grant of up to $300,000. The first round of applications closed May 3 of this year, with additional applications being accepted each year for the next four years. Due to the additional funds this year, the program will be able to make additional awards available to this year’s applicant pool.