Washington, DC — “Six years after the tragic death of Deamonte Driver from what started as a tooth infection, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), spoke from the floor of the United States Senate about the powerful legacy of this 12-year old boy from Prince George’s County, Maryland. Senator Cardin also urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to follow the intent of Congress by clarifying its rules for medical health exchange coverage in such a way that will keep dental coverage for children affordable for all families. Video of Senator Cardin’s remarks can be downloaded here or watched here.
“The death of any child is tragic. Deamonte was even more so because it was entirely preventable. He died from complications from untreated tooth decay that turned into an infection. After Deamonte’s death, more Americans began to recognize the link between dental care and overall health that medical researchers have known for years. The late C. Everett Koop once said there is no health without oral health. The story of the Driver family has brought Dr. Koop’s lesson home in a painful way.
“In the CHIP Reauthorization Act that passed a few months after Deamonte’s death, we established a guaranteed oral benefit for children. Then in 2010, we passed the Affordable Care Act which included a landmark provision to improve oral health. The ACA funds and encourages a number of oral preventative activities, as well as authorizes and requires a number of public health initiatives that should improve access to oral health care. Perhaps the most important provision is the requirement that health plans cover a set of essential health benefits that includes pediatric dental care. I am thoroughly concerned that our progress is about to be stalled.
“Last week, HHS published a final rule on the benefits that created a separate out-of-pocket limit for stand-alone dental plans, but only specifies that the limit be ‘reasonable.’ An additional out-of-pocket limit will make that — the benefit far less affordable to many families — It was not what Congress intended. The whole point of adding pediatric dental benefits to the essential health benefit package was to make certain that oral health not be considered separate from overall health. We have been here before. This is — this approach is similar to policies that were set decades ago for mental health services. Separate policies to cover mental health treatment, separate limits on coverage and separate co-pays. Mental health was treated as second-class health care. We know now that this was an injustice. It was wrong to treat those services and patients who use them as second class.
“The rule also has left it to each state to determine what is a reasonable out-of-pocket limit. With pressure from insurance companies, a state could decide to provide an out-of-pocket limit of $1,000 or more per child which could more than double the out-of-pocket costs for families with five children. In a federally run exchanges, HHS has the authority to set reasonable out-of-pocket limits. Affordability of guaranteed dental coverage for children is at great risk.
“I am proud that since Deamonte’s story was told around the world, Maryland has taken the steps necessary to make our state the national leader in children’s oral health care and improving dental access for low-income Marylanders. If we are to make real progress in improving the health of Americans, we cannot afford to continue giving oral health care second-class treatment. It’s contrary to Congressional intent and contrary to the best interests of Americans to allow the proposed rule to stand. On the sixth anniversary of the death of Deamonte Driver, let us pledge to do better for our children.”
Dental decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States. It affects one in five children ages 2-4 and more than half of all children have dental disease by the time they reach the second grade.