On Tuesday February 23rd, Southern California student leaders traveled to the California State Capitol, Sacramento, to attend Grassroots Advocacy Day.  A day dedicated to the advocacy of important issues, priorities and legislation supported by the CDA and dentists across California.

WesternU College of Dental Medicine was present at Grassroots Advocacy Day along with dental students from Loma Linda University, University of Southern California and University of California Los Angeles. 

As dental students, our goal was to meet with State Senators and Assembly Members to seek support for currently sponsored legislation and assembly bills that will help shape the future of dentistry and public health. 

California State Capital Rotunda in Sacramento.

California State Capital Rotunda in Sacramento.

For example, AB 2485 introduced by Assembly Member Miguel Santiago (D) to restructure provisions of the existing California Dental Corps Loan Repayment Program of 2002 was a topic of much discussion. 

Currently, the CDCLRP has more than $1.5 million available to grant in scholarships for those willing to work in underserved communities. However, due to unnecessary restrictive provisions, it is difficult for applicants to qualify for the program therefore these funds have remained untouched. If passed by the Legislature, AB 2485 will address these barriers such as lifting restrictions against applicants who have received other grants or scholarships in the past thereby encouraging interested students to apply.  Western University students received unanimous verbal support for this bill from State Senator Connie Leyva’s (D) office, Assembly Member Freddie Rodriguez’s (D) office and Assembly Member Marc Steinorth (R) and will continue to follow up with them.

Advocating for dental health policy couldn’t be complete without addressing the lack of access to care and the low dental reimbursement rates for Medi-Cal/Denti-Cal providers. 

According to the Department of Health Care Services, half of all children and one third of adults in California are now Medi-Cal eligible. Furthermore, since 2008, five million more Californians have enrolled in Denti-Cal, and yet the number of Denti-Cal providers has declined 15 percent. 

Along side CDA, we as dental students and future dentists, urged the state to develop sustainable funding structures for these programs and continue making Denti-Cal a priority. We also recognized and thanked legislators for their efforts in supporting the agreement reached with the federal government known as the Medicaid waver process at the end of 2015.  This Medicaid waver will grant California $740 million in federal money to address Denti-Cal’s deficiencies and incentivize preventative care at an early age.

Yet another controversial topic at the State Capital was the tobacco tax legislation introduced by the Save Lives California coalition.

The legislation is simple: it advocates for a tax increase on tobacco products as an attempt to save lives.  Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable deaths in California, and it claims more than 40,000 lives each year, costing the state more than $13 billion annually in medical expenses, which includes $3.5 billion in Medi-Cal costs.

Is there a solution to the increasing cost of health care for tobacco related illness and access to affordable care with an emphasis on education and prevention?

According to the state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office a two dollar tax increase per pack of cigarettes will reduce smoking by 15 percent and will raise $1.5 billion in new revenues that will ultimately fund the Medi-Cal/Denti-Cal program, state oral health programs, research and prevention. 

As future health providers, we showed support for the tobacco tax legislation and urged state representatives to see the overwhelming health benefits of this proposal.  As advocates of the tobacco tax we faced challenging remarks by both Assembly Member Marc Steinorth (R) and State Senator Mike Morrell (R) as they were concerned with the long-term source of funding for programs relying on tobacco tax revenue following the decline of tobacco consumers. 

It is our challenge as health care advocates to emphasize the importance of lives saved for however long revenues remain.  We recognize that this is not a long-term solution to funding public health care programs, but merely an attempt to reduce the unnecessary health care burden posed by preventable illnesses. 

Advocacy day at the State Capital ended with an optimistic moral, and a fierce new understanding of the impact our collective voices and experiences can have on changing and reshaping public policy.

Southern California student leaders at the California Assembly Chamber.

Southern California student leaders at the California Assembly Chamber.