Universal health care for children moving ahead in San Francisco

Jan. 14, 2002
Through the Healthy Kids program, Delta Dental Plan of California -- the company selected to administer the dental portion of the program -- has announced its invitation to 160 local dentists to participate.

Following a recent announcement by Mayor Willie Brown that San Francisco is one step closer to universal healthcare for children through the Healthy Kids program, Delta Dental Plan of California -- the company selected to administer the dental portion of the program -- announced its invitation to 160 local dentists to participate.

"We've asked those dentists who partner with us under a similar state-sponsored program for the uninsured to join us in serving up to 5,000 children under San Francisco's Healthy Kids program," said Michael Kaufmann, a senior vice president with the San Francisco-based, nonprofit dental health plan. "We are confident based on the initial response that we can field an ample network to meet the tremendous amount of unmet dental needs among this population."

Delta Dental, headquartered in downtown San Francisco, is the state's largest dental plan with 15 million California enrollees, including 4.6 million beneficiaries of the state Medi-Cal dental program (Denti-Cal), and 300,000 children under the State Children's Dental Insurance Program, known as California Healthy Families.

By tapping dentists who already participate under Healthy Families, Delta officials say an experienced network of local dentists who already understand the special needs of the uninsured population will be on hand to deliver quality care.

"Dentists who participate in this kind of program are making a sacrifice to improve public oral health and deserve to be applauded," said Gary D. Radine, Delta's president and chief executive officer. "I congratulate the Mayor and San Francisco's civic leaders for making this city and county one of only two in the nation to offer such comprehensive outreach with healthcare to its children."

San Francisco's version of Healthy Kids will be run by the San Francisco Health Plan, under the direction of the San Francisco Department of Health Services. The San Francisco Health Plan in turn contracts with private insurers to extend health, vision and dental coverage to eligible youth up to age 19.

"Dental care is one of the more critical needs for children without health coverage," said Jean Fraser, CEO of the San Francisco Health Plan. "With Healthy Kids, working families will be able to afford the regular checkups to keep their kids happy, and healthier for the long term."

Local oral health advocates agree, saying there is a surprisingly high degree of unmet dental needs among San Francisco children, which makes the dental benefit component extremely valuable.

"In the California Oral Health Needs Assessment, we discovered that 25 percent of preschoolers and approximately 50 percent of San Francisco's elementary school children need dental care, said Howard Pollick, DDS, a clinical professor at the UCSF School of dentistry. "Despite this, an appalling number lack dental insurance, which means they are less likely to get routine care and are more likely to encounter barriers that trap them in a cycle of chronic oral disease."

Enrollment events underway at several spots throughout the City will target children and teens who do not qualify for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families, with household incomes that are less than three times the federal poverty level (for example, $53,000 a year for a family of four).

With subsidies from the San Francisco general fund and other sources including Proposition 10 tobacco taxes, eligible families pay just $4 a month per child for the comprehensive health insurance package that provides medical, vision and dental care.

Delta Dental's State Government Programs division will administer the San Francisco Healthy Kids contract, as it does for Santa Clara County's Healthy Kids program, a similar, more limited program in Alameda County, and another for the state of Florida called Florida Healthy Kids.