Children on Medicaid seldom get adequate dental care, investigators have revealed on Monday, January 25.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conducted an analysis across 4 states, where a quarter of the children enrolled in Medicaid are located: California, Louisiana, Indiana and Maryland.
The purpose was to see how frequently dental care services were being accessed by people benefiting from Medicaid. This health insurance program was devised in order to assist American families and individuals who don’t have the financial means to pay for medical services.
Among the patients who are eligible for Medicaid are: people of low incomes and their children, pregnant women, disabled individuals or those who are elderly and in need of nursing care.
All of those who are enrolled in Medicaid can receive medical assistance such as: early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment (EPSDT), inpatient and ambulatory care, family planning services, lab tests and x-rays, nursing care etc.
They also have access to optional medical support , such as dental services, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, hospice care, prescription drug reimbursement, treatment for speech, language and hearing disorders etc.
Despite these theoretical benefits, Medicaid doesn’t always yield the expected results. For instance, the 37 million children who have this type of health insurance should normally receive comprehensive dental care, including preventive services and restorative treatments.
However, those who get to enjoy such advantages (fluoride therapy, periodic teeth cleaning and biannual check-ups) are actually few and far between.
According to investigators, around three-quarters of the children on Medicaid haven’t accessed all the dental care services that they were entitled to in the last two years.
The situation was the grimmest in Louisiana, where 81% of the kids didn’t have comprehensive dental treatments, and slightly less critical in Maryland, where the percentage of such patients was estimated at 73%.
Even more worryingly, more than a quarter (28%) of the kids enrolled in this social healthcare program haven’t had even one dentist’s appointment during the same time interval.
As researchers speculate, there are several reasons why children seldom take advantage of all the dental services covered by Medicaid.
For instance, few dentists actually receive Medicaid patients, in some regions just around half of all the dental providers participating in this program.
That’s because financial incentives are too minuscule (low reimbursements, amounting to half the pay received from commercial health insurance), while the bureaucracy entailed by government programs such as Medicaid can be quite overwhelming and discouraging.
Another reason why few children on Medicaid get all the restorative and preventative dental services they require is represented by lack of awareness regarding the importance of oral health and hygiene.
Some parents aren’t sufficiently preoccupied with ensuring that their kids regularly have dental checkups, and seldom realize that easily solvable dental issues can turn dangerous and even life-threatening if they’re not tackled in their early stages.
For instance, in 2007, an untreated tooth abscess resulted in a brain infection, and caused the death of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year old boy from Maryland.
Despite being on Medicaid, the child’s family encountered difficulties when trying to access dental care through the health plan. Given that the tooth wasn’t removed on time, and Driver wasn’t able to benefit from this surgical procedure costing just $80, the boy’s condition rapidly deteriorated.
As a result, he had to undergo two operations and spent weeks receiving inpatient care, incurring hospital bills amounting to $250,000.
All these efforts were in vain however, and the child eventually passed away, his death causing a nationwide debate regarding the medical support that those enrolled in Medicaid actually benefit from.
Now that almost 9 years have passed since this harrowing incident, it appears that Medicaid dental care for children still remains inadequate and insufficient.
Based on these findings, it’s obvious that the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should facilitate wider access to dentistry services for enrolled patients, before more American kids come to share Deamonte Driver’s fate.
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