Dental care another hurdle for Georgia kids

Health care realities for Georgia’s at-risk children often resemble something out of Dickens. And it’s not always just the abjectly poor who suffer, but also those who fall into the gaps between those eligible for public assistance and those whose family incomes are too high, but not high enough for private care.

Dental care is the latest area in which young Georgians are being shortchanged, according to a recent study by a Georgia Tech researcher.

A recent story in Georgia Health News cited statistics compiled by Nicoleta Serban, a Georgia Tech professor of industrial and systems engineering, who said more than a half-million Georgia children ineligible for Medicaid or PeachCare are growing up in those “gap” families unable to afford taking their children to dentists.

Worse, according to a recent report in Georgia Health News, Serban told the state House Health and Human Services Committee that there are another 600,000 children who do qualify for those public assistance programs, but who live more than 30 miles in urban areas, or 45 miles in rural areas, from the nearest available dental care.

The GHN report also cited a 2012 Georgia State University Study, sponsored by the Georgia Dental Association, which concluded that the state is 49th in the nation in the per capita availability of practicing dentists, with just 4.4 per 10,000 Georgians — and that slightly more than one-fifth of those dentists accepted Medicaid patients.

So children’s dental care becomes another aspect of the Medicaid expansion debate. Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who chairs the abovementioned House committee, told GHN, “We need to pay [dentists] more.”

Preventive care is an issue; Serban calculated that if just 20 percent of eligible Georgia children in 2011 had access to routine dental maintenance and hygiene, Medicaid could have saved almost $7 million a year.

A bill that would have licensed dentist-authorized oral hygienists to clean teeth in, among other venues, public health centers and school clinics failed this year; Cooper said similar legislation is likely to reemerge in 2017.

Stephanie Lotti, a Georgia Dental Association health policy director, told GHN that increasing Medicaid and lowering the bureaucratic hassles associated with it would entice more dentists to treat eligible children. But she said language barriers and transportation are a bigger part of the problem for eligible children who aren’t getting to dentists already willing to treat them.

All of these people are probably right. The neglect of Georgia children’s dental health is decidedly wrong. The state needs to create incentives for more dentists to treat them, and ways to get children to the dentists who do. This is a matter of both practical benefits and moral imperatives.

This time, they’ve really gone too far

Protesters are again venting their resentment at the Georgia-based chicken-sandwich giant Chick-fil-A.

This, remember, is the company that found itself at the center of the culture wars a couple of years ago when its top executive expressed in a magazine interview his personal moral and religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

Some defenders of marriage equality boycotted the chain; others lined up in support. In retrospect, the whole flap looks pretty silly.

But this is serious.

When Chick-fil-A decided to take its popular spicy chicken biscuit off the breakfast menu, Atlanta Business Chronicle reported, the company’s Facebook page lit up with “thousands of complaints about the biscuit's demise, with many customers threatening to boycott …”

The biscuit, the Chronicle noted, brought in only about one-half of one percent of the company’s sales. But don’t tell that to the loyalists, whose digital howls of protest included "They were a good company that's now been destroyed," and “Stop making changes to the good stuff!" One online poster called the change an “abomination.”

Major social, moral and religious issues are one thing. Tinkering with people’s favorite foods is another matter altogether.