Sunday, March 04, 2007
The Bloody Shirt
Have you heard the name Deamonte Driver? Well you should, for he is about to become the bloody shirt waved in 2008 by the advocates of more goverment-provided and controlled healthcare.
Here is his story:
For Want of a Dentist
Pr. George's Boy Dies After Bacteria From Tooth Spread to Brain
By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 28, 2007; B01
Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.
A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.
If his mother had been insured.
If his family had not lost its Medicaid.
If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to find.
If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.
By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George's County boy died.
Deamonte's death and the ultimate cost of his care, which could total more than $250,000, underscore an often-overlooked concern in the debate over universal health coverage: dental care.
It's a very sad story about the horrors of poverty, American-style. But you have to do some hard reading between the lines to perceive those horrors as they really are. In conformity to the most ancient canons of liberal advocacy journalism, reporter Mary Otto has ignored the real story - a shocking account of parental incompetence and neglect - to advance an agenda.
You have to scroll more than halfway down into the story to arrive at these details:
The Driver children have never received routine dental attention, said their mother, Alyce Driver.
But doesn't Medicaid cover dental care?
The children's Medicaid coverage had temporarily lapsed at the time Deamonte was hospitalized.
Wait a minute: how does Medicaid "lapse"? Maryland's Medicaid program covers children under 19 whose parents earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level : $33,000 for a family of 3. If Driver earned more than $33,000 from her "bakery, construction, and home healthcare jobs," you would think she might be able to afford a visit to the dentist for an ailing child. Or did her coverage "lapse" for some other reason? What was it?
To find that answer, you have to wait till the very end of the story. Driver ends up in a homeless shelter.
She suspects that the paperwork to confirm their [Medicaid] eligibility was mailed to the shelter in Adelphi, where they no longer live.
In which case, would it not have been truer to add one more "if" clause to the opening above: "If only his mother had not been so utterly neglectful as not to take one single solitary personal step to ensure that her Medicaid coverage continued when she changed addresses?"
But wait, it's not Ms Driver's fault!
And even with Medicaid's promise of dental care, the problem, she said, was finding it.
It took me three clicks at 1800Dentist.com to find a dentist office in north Washington, convenient to Prince George's county, that had an appointment available for a Medicaid patient this very morning.
This next passage speaks for itself I think:
When Deamonte got sick, his mother had not realized that his tooth had been bothering him. Instead, she was focusing on his younger brother, 10-year-old DaShawn, who "complains about his teeth all the time," she said.
DaShawn saw a dentist a couple of years ago, but the dentist discontinued the treatments, she said, after the boy squirmed too much in the chair.
By September, several of DaShawn's teeth had become abscessed. Driver began making calls about the boy's coverage but grew frustrated.
Did this frustration impel her to more frantic efforts to help her sons? Not at all. She turned the whole problem over to
Laurie Norris, a lawyer for the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center who tried to help the Driver family
- and who also emerges as the principal source for Mary Otto's wave-the-bloody-shirt story.
Norris secured the Drivers some help, but seems not to have brought much urgency to Deamonte's care.
Norris and her staff also ran into barriers: They said they made more than two dozen calls before reaching an official at the Driver family's Medicaid provider and a state supervising nurse who helped them find a dentist.
Why couldn't they find a dentist on their own?
On Oct. 5, DaShawn saw Arthur Fridley, who cleaned the boy's teeth, took an X-ray and referred him to an oral surgeon. But the surgeon could not see him until Nov. 21, and that would be only for a consultation.
Driver said she learned that DaShawn would need six teeth extracted and made an appointment for the earliest date available: Jan. 16.
But she had to cancel after learning Jan. 8 that the children had lost their Medicaid coverage a month earlier.
In other words, the lawyer who is supposedly urgently seeking care for an ill boy has likewise made no effort over the four months between September 2006 and January 2007 to determine whether the family had in fact sustained their Medicaid coverage - or to get it reinstated. Instead, Ms Driver cancelled her appointment and then ... did nothing.
It was on Jan. 11 that Deamonte came home from school complaining of a headache. At Southern Maryland Hospital Center, his mother said, he got medicine for a headache, sinusitis and a dental abscess. But the next day, he was much sicker.
Eventually, he was rushed to Children's Hospital, where he underwent emergency brain surgery. He began to have seizures and had a second operation. The problem tooth was extracted.
Now look: I'm not going to deny that there may well be much wrong with health coverage for America' poor. Obviously there is. And some of the steps mentioned at the end of the article, including expansion of dental service at state health clinics, may well be useful and cost-effective measures. Maryland could pay for a lot of routine care with the quarter-million dollars it spent at the end to save Deamonte Driver's life.
But no government program on earth can protect children's health from a custodial parent who refuses to bestir herself in any way to help them, no matter how obviously sick they are. And no responsible journalist should allow herself to be manipulated by welfare-industry advocates into minimizing or excusing this truth in her reporting.
Deamonte Driver was a victim of parental neglect, not the hard-heartedness of the Medicaid program. And the really tough question for the guardians of the poor is: How on earth do we insure against that?
Update: A reader suggests another question Mary Otto should have asked Alyce Driver. "How often did Deamonte brush his teeth?" Teaching your children to brush and floss will eliminate almost all cavities even in the absence of any visits to the dentist at all. And if the answer is that Driver neglected even this basic, basic level of hygiene, you have to wonder whether there was any conceivable government health program that could have saved her son's life - short, that is, of actually removing her children from her care. But that's a very different debate, isn't it?
03/04 09:02 AM