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Opinion

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Affordable dental care for children needed

Thank you for placing John Fritze's article on children's dental insurance on your front page ("Concerns rise over cost of child dental insurance," March 22). I applaud U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and his continued focus on the importance of oral health care access for our children. As reported by the Surgeon General 13 years ago, tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. Nearly 80 percent of the disease is borne by about 25 percent of our population. These are the children who need the essential health benefits the most, and they are the ones most likely to be vulnerable to delays in enrollment and inability to utilize dental services if their parents cannot afford to pay for coverage.

The final rule released from the Department of Health and Human Services eliminates the mandate for pediatric dental benefits and stipulates a maximum out-of-pocket limit per child that might prove burdensome to many families not covered by private insurance or Medicaid. Although individuals younger than age 19 will be eligible for dental benefits, if the care is not affordable, it will not be readily attainable. Consequently, families may make the difficult decision not to enroll in a dental plan for their children.

The thoughtful proposal generated from Senator Cardin and his colleagues seems to request that the out-of-pocket expenses be calculated according to family income, and that amount be deducted from the amount of the health exchange's medical plan.

In whatever fashion the stand-alone dental benefits are constructed, they should not pose a financial or administrative impediment to families. Continued collaboration by consumers, organized dentistry, third party payers and policymakers can lead us to an effective common ground that integrates access to dental care with fiscal reality. Optimum oral health and oral health care for our nation's children are too important to be left on the sidelines.

Leslie E. Grant, D.D.S., Catonsville

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