California hygienists warn of impact of budget cuts

Jan. 30, 2009
California DHA warns of long-term effects from cuts to state's Denti-Cal programs. Funding cuts will lead to public health dangers, overcrowded free clinics and hospital emergency rooms.

GLENDALE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Cuts to the state's Denti-Cal Program threaten the overall health of the most vulnerable Californians, who will be forced to seek care in already overburdened hospital emergency rooms and free clinics, the California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA) warned today.

"To some extent this is already happening," said Noel Kelsch, president of CDHA, the state's official voice of dental hygiene professionals, who play a critical role in overall public health and disease prevention. "The use of the emergency room as a last resort for dental services is neither humane nor cost effective."

This will push costs off to the state's counties, which cannot afford to meet the demand, she said. CDHA called on the Governor and Legislature to factor in the long-term costs to California that could result from neglecting those 8.5 million children, low-income, elderly and disabled who rely on Denti-Cal for their oral health care.

Kelsch cited a three-year aggregate comparison of Medicaid reimbursement that showed inpatient emergency treatment cost $6,498 versus preventive treatment that cost $660. This study she said showed that on average it cost 10 times more to treat someone as an in-patient for symptoms related to oral diseases than it would have cost in a dental office for these same patients.

"While we appreciate the gravity of the budget crisis, making a public health epidemic even worse is short-sighted and will cost California more in the long run," said Kelsch said, who added that dental diseases can contribute to aspiration pneumonia, heart conditions and kidney problems.

She noted that gum disease in pregnant women has been associated with preterm and low birth weight babies, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

"As an organization dedicated to improving access to oral and overall health care, we cannot sit quietly while the budget axe falls," said Kelsch. "We are urging the Governor and our legislators to protect the health of California's most vulnerable."

CDHA is calling for Californians to contact their legislators and the Governor to voice their opposition to the proposed cuts to Denti-Cal programs for adults and children.