Susan Inglett’s dental coverage changed just after she got a root canal on one of her top teeth.
It was 2009, and California was in the midst of a budget crisis. To cut costs, Medi-Cal, the state health insurance program for low-income residents, eliminated non-emergency dental benefits for adults.
Inglett, 63, of San Diego, needed a crown for that vulnerable tooth, but the state no longer paid for them.
She couldn’t afford one on her own, so she went without it. Since then, she has had three other teeth pulled because the dental services that would have saved them were no longer covered.
“You end up making choices about what you can and cannot afford,” Inglett says. “If a procedure comes up and you simply can’t afford it, and it’s cheaper to yank the tooth, then you take out the tooth.”
Soon, Inglett won’t have to choose between fixing her teeth and getting them pulled.
Starting in January, many of the dental services that were cut eight years ago will be restored for her and about 7.5 million adults on Medi-Cal, many of whom have had to get their teeth pulled instead of repaired.
Some benefits were partially restored in 2014, such as fillings and X-rays, but critical treatments remain uncovered, including lab-processed crowns, root canals on back teeth, treatments for gum disease and partial dentures.
Those procedures will be covered once again in 2018. But a critical question looms: Will there be enough dentists willing to accept the rates that Denti-Cal — Medi-Cal’s dental program — pays for them?
“The vast majority of dentists don’t accept…