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Dental Insurance
Why not for Everybody?

by Everett Wilson
July 14, 2007

I was scandalized to learn that my state provides dental insurance  for the poor but does not enable dental service for them  because comparatively few dentists accept the insurance program. 
I have good dental insurance through my employer, so when my dentist died suddenly five years ago  I decided to go to a dentist who   participates in the state's program. In this way  the better benefits from my private plan would help a little to offset the economic disadvantage to the dentist of participating in the state's program. 
The closest one I found was forty miles away, but I drove past several other dentists for five years to support what he and his staff were doing for the poor. Then, when he  left his practice, I thought it would be a good idea to get a closer dentist because both gasoline prices and my age were rapidly advancing.
This time I telephoned every dental office listed in the Yellow Pages that was  within twenty miles of my home, half the distance I had been traveling. Not one participated in the government program by taking new patients,  but several had room on the schedule for people  like me, who are able to pay more. 
So I faced reality and made an appointment with the one nearest my home. I have a hurting tooth, and will be there Monday.
But If I were twelve years old and broke, I would not be served.  At least that is what it sounded like on the telephone. You probably saw the story last February of the boy who died of a toothache in Maryland because his mother, uninsured and poor, could not afford or find dental care for him. Instead of an eighty-dollar extraction, his life ended following brain surgery and medical expenses estimated at a quarter-million dollars.
There are worse things than going to the dentist—like not going to the dentist when you need to go the dentist.
As far as I can tell, the same tragedy could have happened here in the neighborly Midwest. No office I called asked if there was an emergency, but several said, before I even asked,  that they do not take Medicaid.  
It looks as though  we have a government collecting taxes to fund the care of the poor, then  hangs  on to our money without providing the service. Equally, we have helping professionals who will not help the helpless on our behalf, even though their professional education is heavily subsidized by our taxes in state-sponsored universities and  through government grants to private schools. We are taxed to pay for the dentist's education and taxed to pay for the care of the poor, and then  must be able personally to afford own  own service on top of that.
To the argument that I do not understand the complexities, I say that's right, I don't. I know my own profession, however, and that I am accountable to my public to work through the complexities without using  them as an excuse to do nothing. I expect the dentists and the government to understand the complexities, deal with them, and do their job.
I am not interested in hearing why necessary things can't be done. If they are necessary, they have to be done.
Of course no single dentist can take care of the poor in a community without burning out and going broke. But there are lots of dentists in our community and there is such a thing as shared responsibility.
Work it out, ladies and gentlemen. It's your job. You are in a helping profession!

About the Author:
Everett Wilson has been seeing dentists for 56 years. 

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