In this week’s edition of Vida, I wrote about how the state’s recently approved budget will affect health care, and especially health care for Latinos and other minorities. After talking to numerous health care professionals and advocates, I’ve learned that minority communities might be the ones most impacted by the cuts to health care.
But to many health care professionals and advocates, it seems that any budget cuts that take services away from vulnerable communities will affect the future health of all state residents. Ellen Wu, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, put it this way: Cuts made throughout the budget, and especially in education funding, are “totally detrimental to the health of all Californians and the health of the state in the future,” she said.
Under the approved state budget, ten Medi-Cal “optional benefits” will be eliminated, including adult dental services and optometry services. The budget would also implement a 10 percent reduction for hospitals that provide uncompensated care for the uninsured. More details about the budget can be found here.
Dr. Victoria Sorlie, a family physician and an assistant clinical professor with the UCSF Fresno Residency Program, said cutting dental care for Medi-Cal patients is a “bad idea” – both because it will affect the overall health of Medi-Cal recipients, and because it could eventually incur greater costs for the state.
She said low-income people are more likely to have poor dental health and diabetes, and she said diabetics are especially likely to develop cavities and other oral infections. (A recent Fresno Bee investigation came to the same conclusion: income level and education level are closely tied to a person’s risk of diabetes. The report also said that six percent of Latinos die from diabetes.)
Without dental coverage, Sorlie said, a diabetic might ignore a toothache, allowing it to become a serious infection that lands the patient in the Emergency Room of public hospitals (which are now short on funding.) “You could die of a bad infection in your mouth,” Sorlie said. “It’s always better to take care of it preventively.”
So where does all of this leave the state’s health care system? As more people lose their jobs and their health coveraged due to the economic recession, more people will begin to rely on Medi-Cal programs and services, and more people might also wind up in the “safety-net” hospitals. As Dr. John Blossom, a UCSF Fresno professor put it: “It’s kind of a perfect storm, isn’t it?”