Windsor dental surgery center wins exemption from Medi-Cal cut

  • Paloma Alvarado undergoes dental surgery with Dr. Ramtin Nassiri at the PDI Surgery Center For Kids on Thursday, August 15, 2013. The center recently received an exemption from a looming ten percent cut in Medi-Cal reimbursements. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

PDI Surgery Center in Windsor, California's only nonprofit dental surgery center exclusively serving low-income children, will receive a special exemption from a much-feared state budget cut that threatened to shut its doors.

The exemption to the state's 10 percent cut to Medi-Cal reimbursements comes only three weeks before a rolling schedule of cuts is expected to begin. By January, the cuts will apply to services such as medical transportation, general dental services, durable medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, doctors, clinics and certain nursing facilities.

Because of its unique role serving impoverished children with severe dental decay, the state's health services cut PDI a break, said Assembly member Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, who championed the exemption in Sacramento.

"PDI Surgery Center would have had to close its doors had it been forced to absorb these cuts," Chesbro said.

In May, Chesbro brokered a meeting between PDI's CEO Viveka Rydell and officials at the California Department of Health Services. At the meeting, Rydell made her pitch for why the surgery clinic should be exempt.

Established five years ago with significant local support, the center initially served low-income children in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties. But as the only nonprofit surgery center in the state, its territory grew quickly.

Since the center opened, nearly 10,000 children from 30 counties in Northern California, from Santa Cruz to the Oregon border, have been treated at the center.

"The founders never thought that 30counties in the state would need this," Rydell said.

Unlike many medical clinics in the North Coast region, PDI is not a federally qualified health center, and therefore does not receive an enhanced reimbursement rate for Medi-Cal. Rydell said she argued with state health services officials that the surgery center sees the same population of children and should receive a break from the cuts.

The break granted to PDI was written as a categorical exemption and applies to "dental pediatric surgery centers that provide at least 99 percent of their services under general anesthesia" to youths under 21. But PDI is the only center in the state that qualifies, Chesbro said.

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