Rep. Cummings Visits UMB to Describe Oral Care Advances under Health Care Reform
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings held a news conference April 1 at the University of Maryland Dental School to describe dental benefits that are advanced in the new federal health care reform legislation.
"I've said it to my staff and I will say it to you, 'When I go to my grave, I will consider this to be one of the most significant votes I have ever taken,'" said Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland's 7th District.
Cummings said the country and the world were shocked when 12-year-old Deamonte Driver of Prince George's County died three years ago "in one of the richest states, in one of the richest countries from complications of an abscessed tooth, when $80 worth of dental care, an extraction, might have saved his life."
He thanked Dental School Dean Christian S. Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent, for "the opportunity to discuss the benefits that Maryland families will get as a result of what we have done on the federal and state level."
Stohler said, "We are meeting today at the Dental School because the inner city dental schools in this country have become the access-to-care points." For example, in 2003 the Dental School provided $3.6 million worth of unreimbursed care, Stohler said, and in 2009 it provided $12.1 million of unreimbursed care.
Stohler said that the tragedy of Deamonte Driver made the School "look at ourselves and we came to the conclusion that we have to do more." It increased annual enrollment by about 120 students at the Baltimore campus "because we need more providers and they need a different mindset; a provider who is committed to serving the underserved."
Cummings thanked many "partners in our effort to assure that all of our children have access to quality oral health care" including John Colmers, MPH, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Elizabeth Lowe, RDH, MPH, chairwoman of the Maryland Dental Action Coalition; the Pew Charitable Trust; the Deamonte Driver Dental Project; the Maryland Children's Oral Health Institute; the Baltimore City Health Department; and the DentaQuest Corp.
Cummings said the new federal law will help assure that "we will take every step possible to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again." He said pediatric dentistry will no longer be an "afterthought" because it will be part of every insurance package under the law.
He also said federal funds will be used "to launch a dental education campaign to reach people in underserved areas." He explained several other provisions that will expand dental coverage and education.
He said the law elevates the National Center on Minority Health and Health Care Disparities to "better address the appalling health disparities that are plaguing our minority communities."
Colmers thanked Cummings for his leadership on the health care bill and for his work to include oral health care.
Colmers added, "But we know that despite all the hard work that has occurred so far, the real work is about to begin. And, we here in Maryland are ready to roll up our sleeves to get that work done in all areas of health care reform."
He said Deamonte Driver's death happened three weeks into his term as health secretary and "it is an event I will never forget." Colmers said that as a result, the state government made "important progress" to help prevent recurrence of the tragedy.
Cummings described Norman Tinanoff, DDS, MS, professor and chair of the Dental School's Health Promotion and Policy department, as "a very, very special person" without whom Maryland improvements in dental care since Deamonte Driver's death "absolutely would not have happened."
Tinanoff said that in the 1990s oral health in children was the worst in the nation. Only 6 percent of Medicare children were receiving restorative care, meaning dental fillings. Yet 50 percent had cavities. He detailed the creation of comprehensive state legislation mandating yearly improvements in oral health care. The death of Deamonte Driver was an additional catalyst for Colmers to set up the Dental Action Committee. The seven recommendations of the committee were acted upon by the state legislature for sweeping changes in the Medicaid dental reimbursement system.
Tinanoff said those improvements and others have had a positive impact. "We now have 800 dentists in Maryland treating children in Medicaid. In 2008, the last year figures have been available, 53 percent of children in underserved areas receive an annual dental checkup."
Lowe explained that her coalition grew out of a special committee set up three years ago by Colmers to respond to Driver's death and that almost all of the recommendations from the committee have been put into place. "But that is still not enough to prevent what happened to happen to any Marylander of any age," Lowe said.