Shock and heartbreak in Maryland this morning over the death of twelve year-old Deamonte Driver, killed by...a toothache. It sounds ridiculous, but it's a true story that demonstrates more than ever the need for health care reform in this country.
Driver's case is unusual--the infection that killed him started in an abcessed tooth and spread to his brain--but it serves as a stark reminder that seemingly minor medical problems, when overlooked, can quickly turn deadly. And it highlights an often-neglected facet of health care, one that often seems like an afterthought--proper dental care.
It's hard for Medicaid recipients in Maryland to receive dental care, as only 900 of the state's 5,500 dentists accept Medicaid patients. The problems for a family like the Drivers don't end there, however. Three days before Deamonte fell ill, his mother learned that the childrens' Medicaid coverage had been terminated as a result of failure to submit the required paperwork. She believes that the paperwork was mailed to a homeless shelter where the family temporarily took up residence, but has since left.
Deamonte's condition progressed rapidly. One day he came home complaining of a toothache; the next day he was in emergency brain surgery at Children's Hospital in Washington. Last Sunday, after seeming to be on the road to recovery, he lost consciousness and died.
A lot of people are looking for ways out of the crisis that produced as heartbreaking (and preventable) a situation as Deamonte's. Two of them--Drs. Julius Richmond (former Surgeon General of the U.S.) and Rashi Fein--have laid out their ideas in 2005's The Health Care Mess: How We Got Into It and What It Will Take To Get Out. Showing how the promises of medical advances have not been matched either by financing or by delivery of care, Richmond and Fein outline a strategy based on reason and compromise that can serve as a jumping-off point for debate on how we are going to get to a place where cases like Deamonte's will be a thing of the past.