June 29, 2017

JOHN DANIEL DAVIDSON: Let’s Stop Pretending Medicaid Saves Lives.

Remember Deamonte Driver? He was the 12-year-old who died of a toothache in 2007. The boy lived in Maryland and was enrolled in that state’s Medicaid program, which covers dental care for children, as all Medicaid programs are required to do.

But Deamonte’s mother couldn’t find a dentist who would take Medicaid. At the time, only about 16 percent of Maryland dentists accepted Medicaid patients, and Deamonte was in dire need of basic dental care—as was his younger brother, DaShawn, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte’s toothache got attention, bacteria from an abscessed tooth had spread to his brain. He underwent two emergency operations and six weeks of hospital care that cost more than $250,000. But it was too late, and Deamonte died. A routine, $80 tooth extraction could have saved his life.

Deamonte’s case prompted a national conversation about Medicaid. How had Maryland’s Medicaid program so thoroughly failed the Driver family? Why hadn’t they been able to find a dentist? And what is the point of being enrolled in Medicaid if there are no doctors or dentists willing to treat you?

Those questions were never really answered, but they’re as pertinent today as they were a decade ago—arguably more so, since we’re once again engaged in a national debate over health care reform and the fate of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Then as now, the reality is that Medicaid doesn’t save lives. In some cases, like Deamonte Driver’s, it bars access to basic life-saving treatments.

It isn’t just that Medicaid doesn’t save lives, it’s that it has put Washington on a course to bankrupt the nation. But if you think of it as the world’s most expensive example of virtue signaling, it all makes sense.

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