My Fight for Health Equity is Personal. It Can Be for You, Too
As a white woman – well educated, well off, and living in the Boston area – I have only experienced the inequities of our healthcare system once, and it was on behalf of our African-American son.
Eleven years ago, our fourth child joined our family. He was in first grade. During the transition meetings his social worker said, “Make sure you take him to the dentist soon – I don’t think he has ever gone.” So, in the first weeks, I took him down to our family dentist for a cleaning and exam.
Not surprisingly, he had multiple cavities. When I went to the front desk to make the next set of appointments, the office manager said in a loud voice, “Your son isn’t covered on your insurance.” I explained he was on Mass Health (the Massachusetts version of Medicaid), as we were officially still foster parents. He wasn’t yet eligible for my employer-based coverage.
In a louder and nasty voice, the office manager replied, “We don’t take Medicaid patients. You’ll have to pay cash and then find another dentist.”
I was so astounded by her statement that I didn’t understand it. I asked her to repeat it, thinking I had misheard. I hadn’t. I will never forget how that made me feel, or the look on my son’s face when he sensed he wasn’t wanted in that office.
Who among us would not want to make a difference in that moment? Who among us would not want to make that investment – in him, in the quality of life he would have, in his future?
The health inequities that millions of Americans experience were invisible to me until that moment. My lesson learned that day is this: Even if you don’t see them, injustices, inequities, and unfair and inefficient systems are exceptionally real.
Not enough has changed in the 11 years since our last visit to that dental office. Per the American Dental Association, only 39% of dentists accept Medicaid patients. Many Americans face a series of locked doors when they try to access oral health care: not enough dentists, language barriers, inability to afford the care, difficulty getting time off work, and the list goes on. Every American deserves to be free of dental disease – but millions cannot access the care they need.
My last post was about why investing in oral health can’t wait. And now you know why – this cause is personal for me, and it should be for you, too.
Health starts in the mouth, which is why oral health is essential. And why oral health must be enjoyed by all. Let’s start here. Let’s stand together. Let’s make that a reality.
Save the date and tune in to America’s Oral Health: An Emerging Crisis, a POLITICOLive event, presented by DentaQuest on September 24, 2019.