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Health Equity Forum: Oral Health Article – July 2017

Community Campaign to Restore Dental Benefits a Success!

By Stella Kim, Senior Manager of Community Engagement, CPEHN

Though we have seen many federal attacks on the health of low-income and communities of color, this year marked a statewide victory for oral health equity! Through both the leadership of the California Legislature and the mobilization of communities of color, dental benefits were finally fully restored for adult Medi-Cal enrollees. In 2009, at the height of the recession, California eliminated optional dental benefits for adults. In 2014, some services were restored, but others remained unfunded including partial dentures, some root canals, and gum treatments.

CPEHN and our partners have advocated since 2009 to restore dental benefits, as we saw first-hand what a lack of these services has meant for our communities from poor nutrition to workplace discrimination. We launched a campaign this year to fully restore these benefits and increase awareness of the importance of oral health:

  • In April, CPEHN submitted a joint letter with over 30 partner organizations to the legislature in support of restoring full dental benefits.
  • CPEHN partnered with the Korean Resource Center (KRC), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and Justice in Aging to hold a press conference in Los Angeles on May 22nd. This resulted in news coverage by KABC 790, La Opinion and Telemundo. Six Korean-speaking outlets including Radio Korea, LA 18, Korea Daily, Korea Times, and Radio Seoul also covered the press event which featured stories from local consumers about the devastating impacts of only providing partial dental benefits in Medi-Cal.
  • The following week, Korean Resource Center and CPEHN organized a visit to Senate President Pro Tempore De Leon’s district office to further advocate for this important benefit. Seniors shared their experiences of not being able to obtain professionally made partial dentures and not having access to other necessary procedures.
  • In early June, over 30 partners from the statewide health equity coalition Having Our Say gathered in Sacramento to educate legislators about key budget priorities including full adult dental restoration. By visiting the offices of over 20 state legislators, our partners strongly pushed for the reinstatement of dental services for adults.

We are thrilled that the 2017-2018 California State Budget includes funds to fully restore the adult dental benefit, beginning January 1, 2018, and grateful for the leadership of champions in the Legislature.

We thank the fearless leadership of our community partners ensuring policy change for communities of color. Although many things are uncertain and national priorities continue to shift, we commend California’s legislative leaders for investing in programs for vulnerable communities and prioritizing oral health equity.