There was a tragic story published in the Washington Post today about a 12 year old boy, Deamonte Driver who died as a result of an untreated tooth infection; the family was uninsured and had lost their Medicaid coverage.
This story demonstrates how easily children can fall through gaps in our health care system and how important regular examinations and care are for any child. A routine $80 tooth extraction could have saved this child’s life.
Deamonte's death and the ultimate cost of his care, which could total more than $250,000, underscore an often-overlooked concern in the debate over universal health coverage: dental care.
Action for Children has put forth a proposal called Carolina Care for Children, which provides health insurance coverage for children whose families earn between 200% – 300% of the federal poverty level. The program is along the same lines as Governor Easley’s recommendations for expanding the children’s health insurance program.
Carolina Care for Children is a good proposal BUT it does not initially cover dental care. Dental care the proposal says “will remain under study.” That’s a polite way of saying we have bigger problems with dental care in North Carolina.
It boils down to a supply problem. According to health experts we do not have enough dentists willing to accept Medicaid or Health Choice payments. Nor do we have enough dentists serving patients in rural areas.
One solution would be to open our borders to dentists currently practicing in other states.
We have created a barrier by requiring dentists, even those who have been practicing for years, to take the North Carolina dental exam at considerable expense.
The current policy appears to benefit the dentists in North Carolina by keeping the number of dental offices low and the prices for care high but it does not help our children. Isn’t it time we made dental care as accessible as health care?