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Locals line-up for free health care event

August 13, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Locals lined up at the Forum to take advantage of a free health care event Thursday.Vincent Derrick has a job and health insurance, but he still can't afford to pay to have his wisdom teeth pulled out. So he and his father lined up for two nights hoping to see a dentist at the Remote Area Medical Foundation's free health care event at the Forum in Inglewood.

"They don't ask for insurance and it is free. Ain't nothing better than free," said Derrick.

Carlos Munoz in one of America's 47 million working uninsured. His job as a hair stylist doesn't give him enough to pay for dental insurance and when he was able to keep up his Kaiser plan he said it didn't cover much.

"It wasn't really going to be worth it. There was still a lot I was going to have to pay out of pocket," said Munoz.

Many of the people that waited in long lines were newly unemployed due to the economy. Others like Thelma Chism used to have some coverage through the California's Denti-Cal program. She was just about to get two much needed root canals when the program ran out of funds in July.

"When I went back he said, 'Medical doesn't cover that anymore.' So you have to pay or not get it done," said Chism.

"We had a significant access to care problem in this state. Now it is devastating," said Dr. Irving Lebovics from Cedars Sinai.

Dr. Lebovics runs the dental residency program at Cedars. He says the lines of people showing up at the Forum illustrates the desperate need in California.

"The concern I have is this particular model was basically done in the Amazon. It was done in Guatemala. The fact that we now need to do this in the middle of Los Angeles doesn't speak well for us," said Dr. Lebovics.

Once the health care event packs up on August 18, Dr. Lebovics says people can get dental work for free or reduced costs at dental schools such as USC and UCLA. Many local dentists also do pro bono work, but he says it's not enough to meet the growing demand.

"The problem is so overwhelming now that this shows you where we are and we don't know where to turn at this point," said Dr. Lebovics.

Dr. Lebovics says medicare does little to cover the basic dental care of seniors. And even if you have a good dental plan it rarely covers everything.

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