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Many Children Still Don't Get Medicaid Dental Care

Two years after a 12-year-old Maryland boy died from an untreated tooth infection, more low-income children are getting dental care under Medicaid but many still don't ever see a dentist, government investigators said Wednesday.

State officials told the Government Accountability Office that a lack of available funding, low provider participation and administrative burdens are some of the barriers to providing dental care to more children through Medicaid.

Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, provides coverage, including dental care, for 30 million children. But many of those children often have difficulty finding dentists willing to treat them, according to the GAO report.

The GAO released its report as part of a House Oversight subcommittee hearing on the inadequacies of pediatric dental care among Medicaid enrollees. The report said "continued attention and action is needed to ensure children's access to Medicaid dental services" despite steps by federal and state officials to address problems.

The committee's domestic policy subcommittee began looking into dental services for low-income children after the death of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy from Prince George's County in Maryland.

Driver, whose family's Medicaid coverage had lapsed, died in February 2007 after bacteria from an untreated tooth abscess spread to his brain. A routine tooth extraction may have saved him _ but he couldn't get in quickly enough to see a Medicaid oral surgeon.

This is the subcommittee's fourth hearing on the topic since his death.

Last year, the GAO told the House panel that only 37 percent of children ages 2 through 18 enrolled in Medicaid had received any dental care.

The GAO recommended that Health and Human Services Department's Center for Medicaid and State Operations develop a plan for sharing promising practices among states and reviewing dental services in states with low access rates.

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On the Net:

Government Accountability Office: http://www.gao.gov