A study coming from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that children covered under public health insurance policies are far less likely to receive quality dental care. Dentists, the study finds, are more willing to treat children with coverage from private insurance companies.
The study was led by Joanna Bisgaier, a PhD student at the university, and was published online yesterday in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Researchers prepared 6 women for the study, each trained to be the mother of a young boy that had chipped his tooth in an accident. Three of the women had coverage through Medicaid, while the others had policies from Blue Shield Blue Cross of Illinois. The women contacted 85 dentists in Illinois. Each woman gave the dentists an identical story, the only difference being where they got their insurance coverage.
The study found that children receiving coverage through Medicaid were almost 40 times more likely to be rejected by dentists. Even among dentists who claim to accept Medicaid insurance the children were still 18 times more likely to be denied appointments. In total, 170 calls were made from these women looking for dental care for their child. Only 36% of those with Medicaid were able to obtain an appointment of some kind.
Prejudice is the likely culprit, according to researchers. The study suggests that negative attitude toward beneficiaries of public insurance programs is rampant in the medical community. The study’s authors cite literature on dentists’ reluctance to treat children, those with developmental disabilities, as well as those suffering from HIV/AIDS.