Children's dental care faces new hurdles, report says

Children's dental care faces new hurdles, report says
Arcelia Escamilla, 39, speaks with Dr. Elizabeth Ford about her son Kevin Tlatoa, 6, of South Los Angeles in 2009. State officials are phasing out the Healthy Families program that Kevin was enrolled in and shifting all the children into Medi-Cal. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- California children face a more difficult time finding dental coverage after the state changed their healthcare plan, according to a new report.

The report, released by a Santa Monica-based advocacy organization Children's Partnership, examined dental coverage for children from low-income families who have been moved out of the Healthy Families program and into Medi-Cal.

A number of dentist offices said they were not accepting new Medi-Cal patients or were not part of the program despite being listed on a government website, the report said. Other offices said they would not see a child as young as 3 years old.

Potential problems with dental care is something that has been tracked by healthcare advocates since the state began phasing out Healthy Families earlier this year. Elizabeth Abbot, director of administrative advocacy at Health Access, has said she's particularly concerned with rural areas that have fewer dentists.

"It makes me nervous as a public policy person," she said. "It would make me frantic as a parent."

Anthony Cava, a spokesman for the Department of Health Care Services, said officials routinely update the list of dental providers on the state website because coverage often changes.

"DHCS is strongly committed to providing access to quality dental care for our Medi-Cal members through Medi-Cal dental programs," Cava said.

Advocates have also raised alarms about the loss of a particular kind of therapy for autism, known as applied behavior analysis. Hundreds of autistic children who received the therapy through the Healthy Families program have found that the same service is not covered through Medi-Cal.

An earlier version of this post said the report discussed a state website. It's a federal database accessed through a state website.