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Dental Abuse: A "Holy Crap" Bloomberg Story and Its Lessons

Dental Abuse: A "Holy Crap" Bloomberg Story and Its Lessons

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

Holy crap. That was my first thought upon reading Bloomberg News reporter Sydney P. Freedberg's opening to her powerful story about the dubious practices of some dental management companies operating in American public schools:

Isaac Gagnon stepped off the school bus sobbing last October and opened his mouth to show his mother where it hurt.

She saw steel crowns on two of the 4-year-old's back teeth. A dentist's statement in his backpack showed he had received two pulpotomies, or baby root canals, along with the crowns and 10 X-rays -- all while he was at school. Isaac, who suffers from seizures from a brain injury in infancy, didn't need the work, according to his mother, Stacey Gagnon.

"I was absolutely horrified," said Gagnon, of Camp Verde, Arizona. "I never gave them permission to drill into my son's mouth. They did it for profit."

Isaac's case and others like it are under scrutiny by federal lawmakers and state regulators trying to determine whether a popular business model fueled by Wall Street money is soaking taxpayers and having a malign influence on dentistry.

Freedberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, goes on to detail how state and federal official are now investigating allegations of "unnecessary procedures, low-quality treatment and the unlicensed practice of dentistry" by ReachOut Healthcare America and other dental management companies. These companies have been accused of overbilling Medicaid and costing taxpayers millions for potentially substandard care for low-income children, all in the interest of profit demanded by the private equity companies that own them.

This is a worthwhile avenue to pursue in your own community. What, if any, dental management services companies work under school or government contracts to provide care to local children and even adults? Who owns them? How much are they paid? Who monitors their performance? Are audits available? Public documents should be available from your local school district or county health agency, or their state counterparts.

The stakes are so high here. It's already hard enough for poor kids to get dental care, even when Medicaid pays for it.

Related Content:

Dental Disease: Reporting Tips

Dentists: Cutbacks in Public Money, Private Demand

Filling a need for dental care:  an in-depth reporting project by journalist Mary Otto

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