Free Dental Care Seekers a Reality Check for Health Reform Opponents – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

A recent New York Times article featured a heartbreaking account of the other side of all the screaming protests lawmakers are facing on health care reform. This is the real story, one that describes the desperate need for basic health care services that millions of Americans face every day.

Thousands of people in Los Angeles lined up starting after midnight and snaking into the early hours this week for free dental, medical, and vision services. Stan Brock, the heroic founder of a nonprofit called Remote Area Medical (RAM), usually sets services in rural areas where low and middle income people are without adequate health insurance. RAM this time opened up in a large urban area. The response was overwhelming – 8,000 people over 8 days, many in search of dental services but many also seeking multiple types of care – will be seen this week. On one day alone volunteer health care providers performed 95 tooth extractions, 470 fillings, 140 pairs of eyeglasses, 96 pap smears, and 93 tuberculosis tests.

California’s budget crisis is implicated in this overwhelming demand for basic care – MediCal enrollees have had their dental and vision coverage slashed. Some of the patients interviewed even had insurance – most did not – but those who are insured said that they have such high deductibles and co-pays they can’t afford to take advantage of their benefits.

The National Consumers League has a long history – dating back to the 1930s – of fighting for universal health care. Today we continue to work for coverage for every American.

It’s also significant that the patients seen in Los Angeles are plagued by dental problems, with the cost of dental care out of reach for many Americans. For this reason, NCL has taken a leadership role in joining dental care professionals and educators in advocating for inclusion of dental services in overall health reform. Investing in dental health for our youngest citizens is a wise investment that can prevent tooth and gum disease and thousands of dollars needed to treat those diseases later in life.

Lawmakers would be wise to read today’s NY Times story – it serves as a reality check for those who are protesting so loudly at town meetings and other events that 46 million Americans are without health care coverage and that, despite their fears, this country needs to move forward in providing universal health care to all.