California Oral Health Progress and Equity Network

The California Oral Health Progress and Equity Network (CA-OPEN) is building collective power to ensure that optimal oral health care is a fundamental right for all Californians. For almost a decade, California underinvested in public oral health care, which harmed our low-income communities and our communities of color. In 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the Medi-Cal adult dental benefit outright. In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown partially restored it until finally, in 2018, Governor Gavin Newsom fully restored the benefit. This benefit continues to hang in the balance every year and our ultimate goal is to make it permanent.

Though California’s recent reinvestments are starting to yield positive outcomes, the system remains fragmented. Oral health care continues to be expensive and out of reach for many of our diverse communities, which continue to experience disparities in access, utilization and outcomes. Their main barriers are the high cost of care as well as lack of comprehensive coverage and accessibility, lack of funding for providers and diversity in providers, and lack of culturally appropriate consumer education and language access services.

Founded in 2018, CA-OPEN brings together a diverse network of members and unites them around a shared vision and purpose—championing oral health equity. CA-OPEN’s members are policymakers, providers, consumers, advocates and grassroots organizers who are passionate about using policy and advocacy to address the unmet oral health needs of BIPOC communities.

CA-OPEN’s goals are to:

  • Advocate for more equitable oral health policies.
  • Coordinate our efforts so that every step of accessing oral health, from making an appointment to care delivery to payment, are transformed.
  • Expand community awareness and engagement in oral health advocacy through training and capacity-building opportunities.
  • Elevate our members’ voices through shared advocacy opportunities and align our messages about the importance of equity in oral health and its impact on overall health

CA-OPEN’s big advocacy win came in 2018 when the network successfully lobbied Governor Gavin Newsom to fully restore Medi-Cal’s adult dental benefit. In 2020, these benefits were on the chopping block again, but the network mounted a successful advocacy campaign against proposed program cuts. As a result, nearly 4 million Californians continued to receive comprehensive dental coverage. Our successful Medi-Cal advocacy campaign and our CA-OPEN network structure now serve as a model for other states looking to preserve public dental benefits for adults.

CPEHN is the backbone facilitator for this network, meaning that we are responsible for operations, logistics and communications between the network members.

42%

Of U.S. adults 30 or older have periodontis, while rates are higher among low-income adults

37%

Of Immigrants in California report having poor oral health, as compared to 22% of U.S.-born residents

50%

Of people enrolled in Medi-Cal had an annual dental checkup last year, indicating high levels of under utilization


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