U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), along with Congressman Elijah Cummings (MD-7), are urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reconsider its just-released final rule on the children's dental care provisions in the Essential Health Benefits Package to be offered in health exchanges, starting in 2014. Just days before the six-year anniversary of the tragic death of 12-year-old Marylander Deamonte Driver, who lost his life after a tooth infection, HHS has weakened the provisions that would guarantee affordable dental coverage for all American children.
"Deamonte Driver's story is a heart-breaking example of how important oral health is to overall health. If this rule is allowed to stay as-is, HHS will take the bite out of the provisions we fought for that would ensure no child would ever again have to risk his life from something as treatable as tooth decay. I will pursue every route available to make certain that children can receive the affordable oral health benefits that Congress intended," said Senator Cardin, whose provision creating a guaranteed dental benefit was included in the 2009 reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and then in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). "Unfortunately, with this new rule, American families could be subjected to prohibitive out-of-pocket costs and the definition of "affordable' cost-sharing for pediatric dental coverage would be left to the states."
"In the United States of America, we shouldn't lose kids because they don't have access to a dentist," Senator Mikulski said. "In the Affordable Care Act, we made sure that American children would have access to affordable, quality dental care. The Department of Health and Human Services needs to make sure that promise is fulfilled. Deamonte Driver died because he didn't have access to dental care. This did not happen in some foreign country, it happened in Maryland. The way we honor his memory is to ensure that no child ever dies of a curable tooth infection ever again."
"I am deeply disappointed that the final rule on Essential Health Benefits does not include important protections for families who enroll in stand-alone dental plans. This is a discouraging development as we are just a few days shy of the anniversary of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver's tragic death," said Congressman Cummings. "HHS' decision could pose a significant affordability barrier for many families and create an additional out-of-pocket expense for others, many of whom already have to choose between receiving proper dental care and putting food on the table. I will continue to work to expand dental coverage for all Americans and encourage states to establish rules that guarantee affordable dental access for families."