Sunday, January 09, 2005

Dental coverage disparity grows

Dental coverage disparity grows
Increasing cost and lack of insurance cause many Americans to forgo treatment.

By Reed Abelson
The New York Times
January 9, 2005

Among the nation's reservists, a common reason for not being sent to Iraq has been poor teeth. The military offers dental insurance to reservists and members of the National Guard, but for those who opt for it, the benefit fails to cover many procedures and still requires reservists to pay as much as half the cost of the care.

The reservists are hardly alone. With dental costs rising and employers cutting dental coverage, an increasing number of working Americans cannot afford to see a dentist even for chronic problems.

Roughly a quarter of reservists in seven early-deploying Army units had dental problems that could require emergency attention within the next year, according to an analysis done last year by the Government Accountability Office. Similar problems surfaced during the 1991 Gulf War.

During the current Iraq war, some reservists and Guard members chose to have their teeth pulled so they could be deployed, said Maj. Gen. Robert A. McIntosh, the executive director for the Reserve Officers Association of the United States, in testimony before Congress.

"Although promised restorative dental work, their reward for their loyalty and patriotism will be dentures," he said.

Dental implants, a better alternative to dentures, are not covered because they are more expensive.

In a nation where a person's smile is considered a sign of general well-being and an important factor in landing a job, dental care is becoming ever more unequal, policy experts say.

In 2000, the surgeon general issued a report describing the silent epidemic of dental and oral diseases affecting mainly the poor, but some experts, including those working at community clinics, say the problem is becoming worse.

Only about half of Americans have any form of dental insurance, by some estimates.

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