Over the years there have been countless exposes of health care providers ripping off Medicaid, but it’s always good to remind the public just who is committing the waste and abuse they hear so much about from politicians. These exposes are particularly important right now because Medicaid may be on the chopping block later in the year when the new congressional super-committee looks for cuts to bring down the deficit. Many experts believe Medicaid is a juicy target. Then too, Texas Governor Rick Perry is running for president on platform that includes eliminating government waste. Recently he told a group called Citizens Against Government Waste that “the big spenders in Washington from the president on down need to feel the outrage of the American people.”
Perhaps the people of Texas are outraged too now that WFAA has told them gobs of taxpayer money is going right to the bottom line of for-profit medical enterprises. Predictably, federal auditors have stepped in to look at the books and the state Health and Human Services Commission has announced corrective measures including that full-cast dental molds be submitted with each request for braces. Who knows, maybe the Medicaid gravy train will screech to a halt.
But there’s a larger question that needs exploration, and that brings up the R-word: resources. Who gets health care resources in these times of government scarcity—kids who need braces to improve their appearance or kids with what dentists sometimes call “bombed out” teeth? Harris did dip into the area of rationing dental services. One dentist teaching at Baylor told WFAA “the real dental health threat that we have for our children comes from cavities and gum disease.” Money spent on braces is not being spent on cavities, or for the bridges and other appliances that poor adults often need after a tooth extraction. They go without too.
The larger lesson from the WFAA series to investigate when Medicaid goes under the knife later this year is which mouths, and which people, get the money?
Correction: This story originally reported that Medicaid paid $2,200 monthly to treat children with “crisis teeth.” In fact, Medicaid pays $2,200 per patient. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.