Any number of studies have shown that kids who have bad oral health don’t do as well in school as their peers with healthy teeth. It stands to reason, too. Rotten teeth hurt. And when you’re in pain, it’s hard to concentrate — or care or learn — about much of anything.
Kids in families with decent health insurance don’t have to endure toothaches for long. They can fairly easily get a problem taken care of, return to school and to learning. But kids on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — both forms of health insurance, by the way! — don’t have it so good.
A study published in the most recent issue of Pediatrics found that dentists frequently denied appointments to kids who were covered by these plans.
The Los Angeles Times reports that researchers led by Joanna Bisgaier from the University of Pennsylvania had six women pretend their 10-year-old son had fallen from his bike and chipped his front tooth. These women called around to 85 dentists in Cook County, Illinois, around half of whom listed that they participated in Medicaid and accepted Medicaid insurance.
Each office was called twice — once saying that they were on Medicaid, the other time saying they were covered by Blue Cross. Only 36.5 percent of the Medicaid calls ended with an appointment, whereas 95.4 percent of the Blue Cross ones did.
The Medicaid moms were overall 38 times more likely to be rejected by dentists who didn’t participate in the program, but still 18 times more likely to be denied an appointment even by those who were listed as participants in Medicaid.
The Times lists some of the reasons dentists reported for turning away Medicaid clients:
“[L]ow fees, less patient compliance, negative attitudes toward beneficiaries, and administrative requirements being too burdensome. There also is literature on dentists’ unwillingness to treat certain populations, including young children, patients with developmental disabilities, and patients living with HIV/AIDS.
What can possibly be done about this? Should a child with a chipped front tooth have to live with it just because his parents aren’t on a private dental plan?
I chipped a front tooth when I was a little older than 10. It was not only physically painful, it was emotionally off the charts. Of course this was a hundred years ago and I only had to go to school one day before I got an appointment and we had fancy insurance. But the only thing I thought about during that toothless day was my toothless smile. I’m surprised I even agreed to go to school. I’m not sure what school life would be like with a broken smile long-term. It’s clear to me that my the status of my oral health impacted learning.
No wonder people with private health insurance are scared to let the uninsured get the same benefits as they have if getting an appointment is at the whim of whatever off-the-record policy has been set at dentist and doctor’s offices. Or maybe the flip side: we should all have the same kind of insurance so we can’t be discriminated against — are my kids marvelously insured teeth really more important than the kid’s down the street?
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