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Senate committee votes to restore dental care to Medi-Cal

May 24, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Senate Budget Committee unanimously voted to restore dental care for the state's poor, pumping $130 million back into the program.

LeAna Powell, 29, reluctantly showed lawmakers the gap in her teeth that many Medi-Cal recipients have these days, all because the state stopped providing 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 either to get the teeth pulled or to suffer in pain," said Powell.

The need is great, considering people are camping outside in line for days when a free clinic is offered.

"I had three people who were there who got tired of waiting and violated their parole so that they could go back to prison to get tooth and dental care," said Sen. Rod Wright, D-South Los Angeles.

In Gov. Jerry 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 than the governor.

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, just as she is looking for a job.

"That will make it really hard for the interview process with missing teeth or with gaps," she said.

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


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