restricted access Shaking Up the Dental Safety-net: Elimination of Optional Adult Dental Medicaid Benefits in California

In July 2009, California eliminated funding for most adult non-emergency Medicaid dental benefits (Denti-Cal). This paper presents the findings from a qualitative assessment of the impacts of the Denti-Cal cuts on California’s oral health safety-net. Interviews were conducted with dental safety-net providers throughout the state, including public health departments, community health centers, dental schools, Native American health clinics, and private providers, and were coded thematically using Atlas.ti. Safety-net providers reported decreased utilization by Denti-Cal-eligible adults, who now primarily seek emergency dental services, and reported shifting to focus on pediatric and privately-insured patients. Significant changes were reported in safety-net clinic finances, operations, and ability to refer. The impact of the Denti-Cal cuts has been distributed unevenly across the safety-net, with private providers and County Health Departments bearing the highest burden.