Health care reform: What happened to dental?

Sure, Washington passed a historic measure in order to provide millions of uninsured Americans health care, but the media is obsessed with the abortion debate, including why Rep. Neugebauer of Texas shouted "baby killer." (Still no word on whether Neugenbauer has Tourette's or was simply yelling out the title of his favorite x-rated horror rap by Brother Lynch Hung.)

Regardless, what's been missing lately from the debate has been any discussion of dental care. I don't mean why Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi always looks like smiling is painful. I mean dental care for all Americans.

After all, according to the Center for Disease Control, fewer than one million abortions are performed every year. Yet Americans have over nine billion teeth. Why is no one talking about that?

The American Dental Association reports that more than three billion of those teeth are not covered by insurance, including the 32 in my mouth. Which is why the ADA sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi that surely didn't make her smile when it said:

The ADA cannot support this legislation, because it would not include provisions to improve access to dental care for millions of Americans by properly funding Medicaid dental services.

It went on to say:

We find it particularly disheartening that the Senate bill extends Medicaid eligibility to individuals in families with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level but does nothing to provide a basic adult dental benefit for existing or new Medicaid enrollees.

Let's face it, with Baby Boomers aging we can expect a surge in Baby Food. "All I have is auto insurance," says boomer Jim Clay of Portland, Oregon. "If my teeth are damaged while I'm in my car while it's struck by lightning I get to have them fixed at a body shop of my choice after a $500 deductible. Not so great, true, but at least the work would be guaranteed for 5,000 miles."

Dentists are taking matters into their own well-scrubbed hands. In Minnesota last month, dentists volunteered to provide more than 6,000 children with free dental care. Meanwhile, one Massachusetts dentist cut corners by performing root canals with paper clips.

No one knows for sure what health care reform will bring, but it looks likely that those of us who aren't currently covered for dental will continue to grin and bear it. The system rewards the insured. "That's why they call it benefits," said my dentist Eduardo Mulero. "It's easier for me to get clients if I'm on the insurance company's list. It's job security."

But Eduardo feels my pain, even though he's the guy with the drill. That's why he offers a 5% discount if I pay by cash or check. And would never play "Return of Da Baby Killa." So at least I've got something to smile about.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.

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