State dental care falls short

Discussion in 'Dental Archive' started by Joel M. Eichen, Feb 28, 2005.

  1. State dental care falls short
    Suit targets rights of poor children
    By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff | February 28, 2005

    She's a single mom who searched more than two years before finding a
    dentist willing to treat her three children, whose teeth cleaning and
    other dental work is paid for by the state's insurance plan for the
    needy, called MassHealth.

    He's a dentist who won't see patients covered by MassHealth but would
    if the state paid more and made the program less burdensome.

    And both Sharleen Campbell and Dr. Richard LoGuercio are angry with
    the state.

    Massachusetts is defending its MassHealth Medicaid program for
    children's dental care in federal court, where healthcare advocates
    have sued, arguing that the state is violating the civil rights of
    needy children.

    The advocates, part of the group Health Care for All, say the state
    has refused to adopt changes that would make it easier for the
    half-million children enrolled in MassHealth to receive dental
    treatment. They say children of the poor wait months, even years, for
    an appointment to pull a rotting tooth or fix other dental problems.

    The delays, families and dentists argue, are the consequence of a
    state system that pays dentists too little, requires them to complete
    too much paperwork, and demands that if they accept one Medicaid
    patient into their practice they must take every Medicaid patient who
    comes seeking care. While about 5,000 dentists practice statewide,
    fewer than 800 treat Medicaid patients, according to state figures.

    So, when one of Campbell's daughters had a tooth abscess a few years
    ago, she called and called before finding a dentist in Quincy who
    would provide treatment -- a difficult trip from the family's home in
    Kingston because of her unreliable car. And when her son needed four
    baby teeth surgically removed, it meant more phone calls, more
    persistence -- and a trip to Bourne.

    ''You call them at the dentist's office and they say, 'What kind of
    insurance do you have?' " said Campbell, who holds down two jobs, one
    at the counter of a Dunkin' Donuts and the other as a monitor on a
    school bus. ''And when you tell them MassHealth, they say: 'Oh. No,
    sorry, we don't take that.'

    ''It's very frustrating. With children, they're growing up, they need
    to have their teeth taken care of. That's the only set they will

    Mounting scientific evidence indicates that oral health may be a
    bellwether for life-threatening illness. Patients with advanced gum
    infections, for example, tend to have more plaque in the carotid
    arteries, the large blood vessels leading to the brain. But that link,
    dental specialists said, often does not translate into public policy.

    ''It's still difficult to get people to think of a dental problem as a
    health problem with consequences for overall health," said Mike
    Monopoli, director of dental public health policy for the parent of
    Delta Dental of Massachusetts. ''When there are resources that have to
    be divided up, it's hard to keep oral health as something that is
    important to policy makers." Continued...

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    Joel M. Eichen, Feb 28, 2005
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