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CA Bills Tackle Dental Funding, Hospital 'Safe Zones'

News  |  By Doug Desjardins  
   December 19, 2016

State lawmakers introduced new bills that would increase physician reimbursements for the Denti-Cal program and prohibit law enforcement from enforcing immigration laws in hospitals.

This story originally appeared in California Healthfax.

California lawmakers introduced new bills that would increase funding for the state's Medicaid dental program and make hospitals a 'safe zone' for undocumented immigrants.

Assembly Bill 15, introduced by assembly member Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), would increase reimbursement rates for dentists participating in Denti-Cal, the state’s dental plan for Medi-Cal patients.

In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, two assembly members supporting the bill asked the governor to fund Denti-Cal with revenue from Proposition 56, a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes approved by voters in November that is expected to generate more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

"Provider reimbursement rates for the top 10 children’s dental services paid in California are only 35% of the national average," the letter stated, and low reimbursement rates are part of the reason no dentists in 11 counties are accepting new child patients covered by Denti-Cal.

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A report on the Denti-Cal program released in April by the state's nonpartisan Little Hoover Commission described reimbursement rates for providers as "dreadful" and urged state and federal officials to work together to find new sources of funding for the program.

"Dreadful reimbursement rates and slow, outdated paper-based administrative and billing processes have alienated dentists to the point that most California dentists want nothing to do with Denti-Cal and, consequently, more than 13 million people eligible for coverage have few places to use benefits," said Little Hoover Commission Chair Pedro Nava.

Hospital 'Safe Zones'

Senate Bill 54 would make hospitals in the state part of a list of public places that would be 'safe zones' for undocumented immigrants.

The bill, dubbed the California Values Act, would prohibit law enforcement agencies from enforcing immigration laws in hospitals, schools, and courthouses to ensure undocumented immigrants have access to those institutions.

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"To the millions of undocumented residents pursuing and contributing to the California dream, the state of California will be your wall of justice should the incoming administration adopt an inhumane and overreaching mass deportation policy," said bill sponsor Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) in a statement.

As written, SB 54 would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, school police, and security departments from detecting, investigating, detaining, reporting, or arresting persons for immigration enforcement purposes.

It would require public schools, hospitals, and courthouses "to establish and make public policies that limit immigration enforcement on their premises and would require the Attorney General … to publish model policies for their use by those entities for those purposes."

The California Hospital Association (CHA) said it needs more time to analyze Senate Bill 54 before taking a position on it. Hospitals typically do not take part in policies dealing with immigration enforcement, said CHA Vice President of External Affairs Jan Emerson-Shea.

"Our job is to treat patients and take care of medical emergencies when patients are brought into the emergency department," said Emerson-Shea.

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