WASHINGTON – In a speech today on the Senate Floor,
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) expressed his condolences and personal outrage about the death of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy from Prince George's County who died last week from a brain infection brought on by a tooth abscess. The Senator described Deamonte's death a national tragedy and called on Congress to make sure that dental coverage for children in included in this year's State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) reauthorization bill.
As reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday, the Driver family had been living in a homeless shelter and was unable to find a dentist to remove Deamonte's infected tooth before it led to brain damage.
“It is outrageous that today in America, a young boy can die because his family can't find a dentist to remove an infected tooth,” said Sen. Cardin. “Any time we lose a child, it is a tragedy. But Deamonte Driver's death is particularly devastating because it was easily preventable. I give my heartfelt condolences to the Driver family, but it is not enough simply to mourn Deamonte's death. We must learn from this failure of our health care system and take action to make sure it never happens again. Congress must act to make sure every child in America has access to quality dental care, which starts by including dental coverage in S-CHIP.”
This year, Congress is scheduled to reauthorize S-CHIP, which provides health care coverage to millions of American children. Sen. Cardin strongly believes the reauthorization must include basic dental coverage for children.
The following excerpts are from Sen. Cardin's prepared speech:
· “Deamonte's death–the result of a brain infection brought on by a tooth abscess–is a national tragedy. It is a tragedy because it was preventable. It is a tragedy because it happened right here in the United States, in a state is one of the most affluent in the nation. It happened in the state that is home to the first and one of the best dental schools in the nation, the University of Maryland's. It happened in Prince George's County, whose border is less than six miles from where we are standing in the United States Capitol.
· “It is not enough for the community, the state, or even the Senate to mourn Deamonte's death. We must learn from this appalling failure of our broken health care system and we must fix it. Our former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, once said, “There is no health without oral health.” The sad story of the Driver family has brought Dr. Koop's lesson home in a painful way.
· “Our medical researchers have discovered the important linkage between plaque and heart disease; that chewing stimulates brain cell growth; and that gum disease can signal diabetes, liver ailments and hormone imbalances. They have learned the vital connection between oral research and advanced treatments like gene therapy, which can help patients with chronic renal failure.But without real support for government insurance programs such as SCHIP and Medicaid, all this textbook knowledge will do nothing to help our children.
· “Overall appropriations for the Health Resources and Services Administration are declining. That agency's principal responsibility is to assure that primary health care services and qualified health professionals are available to meet the health needs of all Americans, particularly the underserved. But the President's FY 2008 budget cuts HRSA by $251 million dollars.
· “President Bush once again proposes to almost wipe out programs that educate non?nurse health professionals. And it is happening at a time when more than 20 percent of dentists are expected to retire in the next decade. The 2008 Bush proposal would also cut more than $135 million from health professions training programs.
· “Programs that help prepare minority high school and college students for dentistry would be shut down, as would grants to help support training of primary care doctors and dentists. Scholarships for minority and disadvantaged students would be cut significantly.
· “Dental reimbursement for programs within the Ryan White CARE Act, which help dental schools train people to care for HIV patients, is not increased sufficiently to meet our communities' needs. We cannot let this happen. These health professions training programs provide critically important training and health education services to communities throughout the country, including those in my state of Maryland.
· “We need to do more to make the public and the Administration understand that dental care must be part of a comprehensive medical approach in this country, and we need to find new ways to dental coverage part of health insurance plans. This comes back to a fundamental question–what should the role of the federal government be in these matters? We cannot end these vital health, education, and research programs. We must strengthen them.
· “Deamonte's death should be a wake-up call for all of us in the 110th Congress. This year, we will be called upon to make important decisions about Medicaid funding; and we will reauthorize the S-CHIP program. We must ensure that the S-CHIP reauthorization bill we send to the President for his signature includes dental coverage for children.
· “I call on my colleagues, as we begin these debates in the spring, to remember Deamonte. I also ask them to remember his brother, DaShawn, who still needs dental care, and the millions of other American children who rely on public health care systems for their dental care.”