Over the past several months my daughter has been complaining of tooth pain. We suspected she most likely had a few cavities bothering her, and seeing as MediCAL (California’s state version of Medicaid) covers dental work for children (though not for adults) we tried to find a dentist that accepted it and would treat her.
Finding the information was not easy. My social worker told me I needed to contact the MediCAL offices to ask for a list of approved doctors, and to determine what was covered and what wasn’t. The MediCAL representatives stated I should ask my worker for a list of local dentists. They also said that my daughter’s file wasn’t listed as being approved for dental work, despite the fact that she’s under 18 and should be covered, so I would have to wait for them to fix that and call me back. Once I got the go ahead that she could be seen and her work would be covered, I was given information about one dental office in my area that accepts DentiCAL. Apparently there’s only one in my area. If there are others, no one seems to know which ones they might be.
I called at the beginning of February to make an appointment, and was given a date nearly two months away, for Tuesday, March 27th, as the soonest possible available appointment. The day of her scheduled visit we arrived to the dental office to find out her appointment (as well as all dental appointments) for that day had been cancelled because the dentist had called in as unavailable that day. We were asked to reschedule the visit we had waited over six weeks for just to be seen.
Could we come in June 7th?
We’d already waited this long, and now we had to start our wait all over again though it was through no fault of our own that the cancellation had occurred? Surely there was something sooner, if not April, at least May… But June? That’s a longer wait time than we had the first time.
What about May 22nd?
I couldn’t believe this was the absolute earliest available appointment date when they were the ones requesting us to reschedule. Didn’t they understand she was in pain?
Apparently I said the magic words. If she was in pain they might be able to schedule her in a separate time slot they have set aside for emergency services. By luck, a space popped up the following day. She happened to have a doctor’s appointment for a physical already scheduled for that day as well, but I knew I could reschedule the doctor visit without having to wait months, and the tooth pain was the more urgent issue, that was just a checkup, so I booked the available spot and we returned the following day.
After her dental exam to determine the source of the problem (cavities, just like we thought) the dentist scheduled her for a series of follow up appointments, four in total, which included a cleaning and all the fillings and sealants that were needed to complete the work on her teeth. The first appointment – the basic cleaning – was scheduled, April 9th, twelve days later. The final three appointments are spaced out throughout May, with the first appointment that actually does any sort of corrective procedure on May 11th.
So, from the beginning of February, when I first called the dentist explaining my daughter had pain in her teeth, and made her dental appointment, no work to actually ease that pain (i.e. a filling or similar) will occur until her visit on May 11th, over three months later, and will not be finished until another half of a month after that. This is all routine, basic dental work that would be completed within a week or two anywhere else, but it takes nearly four months to be done for us, because as MediCAL patients we are limited to a single overcrowded clinic at which we may seek care.
It does not matter to them if my daughter must be in pain for four months, she’s a second class citizen when it comes to her dental health, even though we technically do have coverage.
Myself on the other hand, well, that’s an entirely different story, which I will detail in a separate post.
How do you feel? Should patients– even children – just accept their lack of options and ridiculous waiting times to be seen and treated because they receive public assistance? Should doctors and dentists be able to treat and serve patients on Medicaid differently than those with private insurance or cash patients? Leave your thoughts in the comments section and let me know.