Lawmakers want to restore dental care to Medi-Cal

May 24, 2013 6:33:54 PM PDT
Democrats in Sacramento Friday insisted the state has enough money to make some of California's neediest residents smile again, but Gov. Jerry Brown wants them to grin and bear it a little longer.

"I am extremely embarrassed about the missing and broken teeth that I have," 29-year-old LeAna Powell said reluctantly showing lawmakers the gap in her teeth, a gap many Medi-Cal recipients these days have.

It's all because the state of California no longer provides dental care to low-income residents on Medi-Cal. To address a budget deficit in 2009, state leaders eliminated those services. "All they do is pull teeth. So, your option is to get your teeth pulled or to suffer in pain," Powell said.

The Senate Budget Committee unanimously voted to restore dental care for the state's poor, pumping $130 million back into the program. The need is great considering people are camping outside in line for days when a free clinic is offered, such as one held in San Jose last weekend.

"I had three people tired of waiting and violated their parole so they could back to prison and get tooth, dental care," Democratic Sen. Rod Wright of South Los Angeles said.

In Gov. Brown's proposed budget revision, though, he doesn't restore cuts to social services. And, his administration thinks it's a bad idea to start spending money when the economy is showing signs of slowing again.

"Our return to structural balance is only by a narrow margin and it's predicated on the assumption that all of the difficult decisions we've made over the last number of years continue," said Michael Cohen with the California Department of Finance.

Democrats insist there is money. The independent Legislative Analyst Office says it projects more tax revenue coming in than Gov. Brown. Even Republicans joined in and voted for the restoration.

Powell is celebrating her victory. The nursing student hopes dental services are offered again soon because three more teeth are starting to hurt and she doesn't want them pulled. "That will make it really hard for the interview process with missing teeth and gaps," she said.

But ultimately, Gov. Brown has the power to veto any spending lawmakers approve.


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