Thursday, December 5, 2013
A program that was created to help low-income kids with dental problems is being changed to help dentists.
A dentist fills a tooth for a patient during a free clinic in 2009. A proposed rule change approved by the state dental board would deny access to public health dental clinics to children who had seen a dentist in the past 12 months. Instead of being able to treat the child, the clinic would have to get clearance from the dentist, whether the child is a regular patient in the practice or not.
2009 Press Herald file photo/Gregory Rec
A proposed rule change that has been approved by the state dental board would deny access to public health dental clinics -- including those based in school health clinics -- to children who had seen a dentist in the past 12 months. Instead of being able to treat the child, the clinic would have to get clearance from the dentist, whether the child is a regular patient in the practice or not.
Adding another layer of bureaucracy won't help a child with a toothache, but it might help a dentist get paid for an office visit.
Or it might not. Not everybody has dental insurance, and families can easily lose it when a parent changes jobs or is laid off. In some households, it may be a choice between treatment at the free clinic or no dental care at all.
The rule doesn't prohibit the clinic from treating the child -- it requires only that the clinic contact the dentist and get approval for the treatment. But it doesn't seem farfetched to imagine how adding this bureaucratic hurdle will mean that some kids will never get treatment, or at least not in a timely way.
Dentists in Maine have a hard time attracting enough patients to sustain a practice, especially in rural areas, and the state does have an interest in protecting their businesses. But delaying or denying free dental care to children who may not be able to afford care otherwise seems a poor way to protect the dentists.
The rule is now on Gov. LePage's desk for approval, and he should send it back to the board.
The governor often says that he supports policies that put children first, and this is one that turns that principle upside-down. Gov. LePage should stick to his principles and reject this rule.