Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Dental Health Parity!

I have occasionally written about mental health parity here -- insurers generally offer very limited benefits for mental health and substance abuse treatment, and they often throw up obnoxious obstacles such as requiring you to call a third-party contractor and spill your strife and woe to some clerk in Bangalore in order to get the services approved. (Okay, I don't know about the Bangalore part, but it could be.)

For some reason, however, all services ending in "ental" get short shrift. The reason I didn't post yesterday is because I had a toothache. Long story short, unlike most people, I do have dental insurance, provided my employer, but guess what? There's a $1,200 annual limit. That means I got the root canal, the insurance was used up, so I put off the crown. Bad idea, as it turns out. Fortunately, however, although I'll be out of pocket for a couple of G notes by the time this is all over, I won't end up like 12 year old Deamonte Driver, who died for lack of dental insurance. Unfortunately it's like that all over -- in most states, poor kids on Medicaid get little, if any, dental care. Medicaid may cover some services, but the reimbursement rates are so low that few dentists will accept it.

We think of dental and mental health care as luxuries, apparently. And insurers are afraid, on no evidence, that people will abuse them -- that if they give decent mental health coverage, everybody will become Woody Allen, spending their lifetimes in therapy; and that if they give dental coverage, everybody will get their teeth capped like a starlet. These hazards can be controlled without killing people. Good dental care is actually extremely important, not just so we can eat solid food, look acceptable, and live without pain, but also, believe it or not, because chronic inflammation of the gums is linked to heart disease.

Like the man keeps saying, we need universal, comprehensive, single payer national health care. And note that word comprehensive. It will, yes, save money.

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