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No More Deamonte Drivers

by Benjamin Domenech on January 21, 2011

The Washington Post‘s report on the horrifyingly sad and completely avoidable death of Deamonte Driver, a 12 year old boy in Maryland, is one of the strongest illustrations of the humanitarian disaster Medicaid has become. Roughly 900 dentists out of 5,500 in Maryland accept Medicaid – but Deamonte’s mother could not find one who accepted it before her children’s teeth became abscessed.

The Driver children have never received routine dental attention, said their mother, Alyce Driver. The bakery, construction and home health-care jobs she has held have not provided insurance. The children’s Medicaid coverage had temporarily lapsed at the time Deamonte was hospitalized. And even with Medicaid’s promise of dental care, the problem, she said, was finding it.

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. Then the family went through a crisis and spent some time in an Adelphi homeless shelter. From there, three of Driver’s sons went to stay with their grandparents in a two-bedroom mobile home in Clinton.

By September, several of DaShawn’s teeth had become abscessed. Driver began making calls about the boy’s coverage but grew frustrated. She turned to Norris, who was working with homeless families in Prince George’s.

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.

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. She suspects that the paperwork to confirm their eligibility was mailed to the shelter in Adelphi, where they no longer live.

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.

After more than two weeks of care at Children’s Hospital, the Clinton seventh-grader began undergoing six weeks of additional medical treatment as well as physical and occupational therapy at another hospital. He seemed to be mending slowly, doing math problems and enjoying visits with his brothers and teachers from his school, the Foundation School in Largo.

On Saturday, their last day together, Deamonte refused to eat but otherwise appeared happy, his mother said. They played cards and watched a show on television, lying together in his hospital bed. But after she left him that evening, he called her.

“Make sure you pray before you go to sleep,” he told her.

The next morning at about 6, she got another call, this time from the boy’s grandmother. Deamonte was unresponsive. She rushed back to the hospital.

“When I got there, my baby was gone,” recounted his mother.

At Investor’s Business Daily, responding to a comment by Ezra Klein, David Hogberg outlines why President Obama’s reforms would make this situation worse, not better.

Under ObamaCare, if you earn less than 100% of the federal poverty level, you are only eligible for Medicaid. You are not eligible for a premium subsidy to help you buy private coverage on an insurance exchange.

Presumably, someone like Driver’s mother who is living in homeless shelters is making less than 100% of the federal poverty level. The only people who qualify for either Medicaid or a premium subsidy are those between 100% and 133% of FPL. Klein knows this, as Ron Pollack of Families USA helpfully explained it  to him.

Despite this, Klein says that the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) “means health-care coverage for more than 30 million Americans,” that “the repeal legislation Republicans are pushing does nothing to replace the coverage the Affordable Care Act would give to those people,” and, thus, that the GOP offers no “solution for the Deamonte Drivers of the world.” He further knocks Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., for complaining that he had to wait 28 days for his congressional health insurance to kick in. “(Harris) knows his taxpayer-subsidized insurance is important. But what about Driver’s?” Klein asks.

Nice try, but ObamaCare doesn’t offer any solution for the Deamonte Drivers of the world either. In fact, to the extent that Medicaid played a part in his death (Driver’s mom had difficult finding a dentist because few dentists accept Medicaid due to its lousy reimbursement rates), ObamaCare puts more Deamonte Drivers at risk by expanding Medicaid to 133% of FPL.

By adding millions of people to an already broken, unsustainable system, Obama’s reform puts more children at risk of exactly this kind of avoidable circumstance.

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