Category Archives: Children

What early numbers tell us about kids’ dental coverage under ACA

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

child-dentist

Image by Herald Post via flickr.

Children’s dental benefits are listed among the 10 essential health benefits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet there is no federal requirement that people buy dental coverage for themselves or their children when obtaining health insurance on state marketplaces.

That lack of a mandate is having an impact, a new study from the American Dental Association concludes.

An average of just 15.9 percent of children obtained stand-alone dental coverage along with their medical plans across the 37 states included in the study. By the same measure, more adults – an average of 20 percent – obtained dental benefits along with their medical plans, according to the ADA’s analysis of data gleaned from the February 2014 marketplace enrollment report submitted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Continue reading

Questions arise about oversight of pediatric dentists, sedation

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Alia Wong

The state of Hawaii continues to investigate the death of a three-year-old girl who went into a coma after visiting a dentist’s office.

Last month, I wrote about the coverage by Susan Essoyan of the Honolulu Star Advertiser. I also put together a pediatric anesthesia tip sheet with links to some helpful resources.

In the meantime, reporter Alia Wong has also been following the tragic story of the death of Finley Boyle and weighed in with a long Jan. 21 piece for the Honolulu Civil Beat. Wong brings us up to date on the kinds of questions that are being raised in the wake of the child’s death. She writes that questions are being raised about whether dentist Lilly Geyer, who was treating Finley, should have been advertising herself as a “children’s dentist.”

And she explains that “pediatric dentists do a rigorous and competitive two-year residency program in which they get training in specific skills such as child sedation while general dentists aren’t required to do a residency program.”

In a Q&A for AHCJ, she reveals what other questions have come up and what she learned about sedating children for dental procedures. See what story ideas her experience might spark for you.

Studies reveal contradictions in efforts to improve socioeconomic status

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or tweet to @rojasburke.

“You as a society have made a decision that child poverty is what you want. I can only assume that’s the case. Otherwise you would do what European countries are doing and use taxes and transfers to reduce child poverty.”  – Michael Marmot

Sir Michael Marmot isn’t the first to call out the United States for its exceptionally high rate of child poverty. About 45 percent of American kids are growing up in families that are poor or near poor (below 199 percent of the federal poverty level), up from 40 percent in 2006, according to a recent analysis.

This degree of social inequality helps explain why the health status of Americans is failing to keep up with progress in other wealthy nations. But how to make things better is not so clear. Two remarkable studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month highlight some of the paradoxes and hidden pitfalls inherent in efforts to boost the socioeconomic status of poor kids. Continue reading

Free clinics mark Children’s Dental Health Month

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by ktpupp via flickr.

Image by ktpupp via flickr.

Open wide! A free one-day dental clinic for low-income children may be coming to a school or community center near you.

February is Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity for oral health professionals and advocates to raise awareness about the importance of getting care to kids, particularly those who might otherwise go without.

On Friday, Feb. 7, the American Dental Association is officially kicking off its 12th annual Give Kids a Smile Day program with free care for kids at the Howard University College of Dentistry here in Washington, D.C.

Similar events are being planned throughout the country. To find out what is going on in own area, check with your local or state dental society.

Give Kids a Smile clinics are typically organized differently than the big free Mission of Mercy events that have crowds of adults lining up spontaneously at fairgrounds and gymnasiums. The 175 children expected at the Howard University dental college were screened in December by volunteer dentists who visited local elementary schools. The kids will be getting their needed follow-up treatments on Give Kids a Smile Day. Continue reading

Food deserts: Just one facet of an obesogenic world

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or tweet to @rojasburke.

Image by kardboard604 via flickr.

Image by kardboard604 via flickr.

It seems pretty far-fetched that bringing a supermarket to a disadvantaged neighborhood could, in a matter of months, turn back the tide of obesity.

So I wasn’t exactly shocked by the study in Health Affairs (AHCJ members have free access) this week finding that the addition of a supermarket made little impact on nearby residents’ diet or weight gain. The authors compared two demographically similar Philadelphia neighborhoods. Both were considered food deserts, but one received a new 41,000-square-foot-supermarket in 2009. Six months later, the authors found no significant difference in body mass index or daily fruit and vegetable intake between residents of the two neighborhoods. (In the neighborhood with the new supermarket, most residents didn’t even adopt it as their main store.)

The link between food deserts and obesity has always been somewhat tenuous. For instance, having a nearby supermarket or grocery made no difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables people ate or the overall quality of their diets in one of the largest observational studies to date. More recently, researchers analyzed data from 97,678 adults in the California Health Interview Survey and found “no strong evidence that food outlets near homes are associated with dietary intake or BMI.” They figured it’s because most people go by car and don’t limit their shopping to nearby stores.

News outlets tended to cast the latest study as a policy fail for the Obama administration. Obama’s $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative is based on the idea that making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible in underserved neighborhoods will help reverse diet-related health problems.

I’m not sure that a six-month pilot study on a single store is the final word. In a thorough report by Sarah Corapi at The News Hour, study author Steven Cummins says he remains convinced that better food stores are needed in many disadvantaged neighborhoods: Continue reading

Uncovering the real drivers of obesity in young people

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or tweet to @rojasburke.

Image by phalinn via flickr.

Image by phalinn via flickr.

It’s great that the rapid rise in youth obesity since the 1980s has started to level off. But there’s an unsettling trend hidden in the data: Progress has largely been limited to kids from more educated and higher income families, according to a recent analysis that got less news coverage than it should have.

Robert Putnam and colleagues at the Harvard Kennedy School compared outcomes by education and income using data from two nationally representative health surveys (the 1988–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and the 2003–2011 National Survey of Children’s Health).

Among teenage children of parents with a college degree, they found that the prevalence of obesity began to drop about 10 years ago, while it continued to climb among the teenagers of parents who have at most a high school degree. They found the same trend when they used estimates of family income, rather than education, to measure socioeconomic status. (The growing gap is not merely a reflection of racial or ethnic differences, they say, because it persisted even when they limited the analysis to non-Hispanic whites.)

Los Angeles Times reporter Melissa Healy raised an important point in her coverage: Continue reading

Dentist under investigation after sedated child dies

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

A Hawaiian pre-schooler died after lapsing into a coma in a dentist’s chair. Now state authorities are investigating her dentist, according to a report by Susan Essoyan of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. (The articles are behind a paywall but AHCJ has been given permission to republish them here.)

“The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has begun an investigation of Kailua dentist Dr. Lilly Geyer after a 3-year-old girl fell into a coma while she was in the dentist’s chair and later died,” Essoyan reported on Jan. 8.

“Finley Puleo Boyle, the only child of Ashley and Evan Boyle of Kai­lua, never awoke after losing consciousness and suffering massive brain damage following heavy sedation at the dentist’s office Dec. 3, her mother said.”

The little girl died Jan. 3 at a local hospice. Continue reading

National look reveals gap in access to pediatric dental care

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Dental hygenist

Image by The National Guard via flickr.

Catherine Saint Louis of The New York Times took a hard national look at the pediatric dental benefits being offered on the state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Her reporting led her to the troubling gulf that oral health advocates have been warning about.

While kids’ dental coverage is included as one of the 10 essential health benefits under the nation’s health care reform law, “pediatric dental care is handled differently” from other coverage on the federal and state exchanges, she wrote in her Dec. 16 story, “A Gap In the Affordable Care Act.”

Dental plans “are often sold separately from medical insurance, and dental coverage for children is optional,” she noted. “People shopping on the exchanges are not required to buy it and do not receive financial support for buying it.”

Experts have cautioned that the problems could leave millions of children without access to dental care. Continue reading

A different story in each state: Get tips on covering pediatric dental benefits under ACA

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

As state health insurance marketplaces opened for business, Marissa Evans of Kaiser Health News offered a nice consumer-friendly Q&A on pediatric dental and vision care under the Affordable Care Act.

It started like this:

Q: “Will I be required to buy pediatric dental care if I purchase insurance on the exchange?

A: “Most likely, no. Children’s dental care may be included in some plans offered on the marketplaces. But many insurers may offer it as a stand-alone policy, which you are not required to buy under federal law, though people in some states are required to do so. Nevada and Washington state, for example, are requiring this coverage…”

Now there is the rub for health care reporters.

When it comes to the new health insurance exchanges, every state has its own pediatric dental benefits story.

In the next five years, an estimated 3 million children are expected to become eligible to receive private dental benefits through the insurance marketplaces set up by the states. They will be among the approximately 8.7 million children who stand to gain extensive dental coverage through the ACA.

(Another 3.2 million kids are anticipated to get coverage under Medicaid and another 2.5 million through employer-sponsored insurance, according to the American Dental Association. All told, the health care reform law could reduce the number of children without dental benefits by 55 percent, the ADA finds.)

But back to pediatric dental benefits on the exchanges. How is your state coping with the challenges of offering them? And will the benefits result in getting more kids the dental care they need? 

Time – and good reporting – will tell. To help with that good reporting, see this tip sheet on pediatric dental benefits under the ACA and be sure to tune in for today’s webcast, “Will families buy kids’ dental benefits on new exchanges?” at noon ET.

Story on ‘diaper need’ brings a medical study to life

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

Eryn Brown

Medical research can often seem far removed from a local health beat. All the statistics, the jargon, the complicated graphs can make it easy to forget that behind every number there’s a real person. In fact, medical studies can be great jumping off points for local stories. The key is finding the people who are at the heart of the research.

We asked health reporter Eryn Brown to share how she recently turned a medical study from Yale University into a poignant local story for the Los Angeles Times. In bringing the research home, she shined a light on the heartbreaking ways low-income mothers have to stretch diapers when they can’t afford a steady supply.

The story is part of a recent push in research to “operationalize” poverty by documenting the concrete ways income impacts health and quality of life. These kinds of studies are starting to give us a glimpse into the hardships faced by people on the fringes of society and offer reporters some meaningful stories to tell.

Read about how Brown came across the story and how she reported it.