Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Poster Child for Universal Coverage

Today's big health research headline could change what 150 million Americans do every morning – pop a vitamin pill. A powerful statistical review of 68 studies involving 232,000 people found that taking antioxidants – beta carotene, Vitamin A or Vitamin E – not only doesn't extend life, it may increase the risk of dying by 5 percent.

But that isn't really the most important thing that appeared in the morning paper in Washington. That is reserved for a human-interest story about a boy with a bad tooth who finally got it extracted – at a cost of perhaps $250,000 and his life.

The death of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver was from a brain infection that resulted from inability of his working mother to get insurance, to find a dentist willing to treat poor children who squirm in the chair and to find a surgeon willing to take Medicaid; a Medicaid snafu that left the boy temporarily uncovered; and an abscess that slowly spread and required brain surgery and a two-week hospital stay. By then it was too late.

For want of a simple $80 extraction, society is out a quarter of a million dollars – and the incalculable value of a human life.

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