Dental care offered poor youngsters

February 03, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Building on a program to provide health care for needy children, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall announced yesterday that his administration is providing a year's worth of dental insurance for 400 youngsters.

The dental benefits, which became available Monday, will cover annual examinations and cleanings, X-rays, extractions and fillings.

Last fall, as part of the same program, the county bought TC year's worth of medical benefits for 400 children. Those benefits cover preventive care and visits to the doctor, but not hospitalization.

So far, the county has signed 308 children up for the health and dental benefits. More will be added as cases are referred from the health department, social service officials and the school system.

"This program will allow us to provide dental insurance for children who might not otherwise see a dentist," Mr. Neall said during a news conference at Annapolis' Eastport Elementary School. "Some children may not think that's a privilege, but we know better."

Mr. Neall said the county committed about $80,000 last fall to the program because health officials realized how important it is for children to have regular health and dental care starting at an early age.

Many low-income families have to do without needed health care because they simply cannot afford it, he said.

Under an arrangement with the Caring Program, a nonprofit division of Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Maryland, the county paid $198 per year for each child to cover the health plan. Dental benefits will be added at no extra cost.

The program can offer one year of minimum health and dental benefits for less than $200 because participating doctors and dentists agree to lower their rates for these patients and the Blues donate services to administer the program.

There are 20 Caring Programs throughout the nation providing health benefits for children whose families can't afford insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid. The programs are largely supported by private donations and fund-raising events.

Anne Arundel's decision to cover 400 children marked the first time a local government had purchased health insurance for its residents from the program.

The county's dental program is only the third in the nation, said Bonnie Katz, program manager for Blue Cross-Blue Shield. Pilot programs have been started in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh using federal money.

The county has signed up 15 dentists, scattered throughout the county, to provide treatment for the children. Parents will be given a list of participating dentists from which they can choose.

Dr. Harry Curland, the county's director of dental health, said the county is "actively recruiting" additional dentists for the dental program.

After Mr. Neall made the announcement yesterday, 28 first-graders at Eastport Elementary were treated to a special presentation on proper dental care. The youngsters were particularly impressed with a huge set of teeth and equally large toothbrush, which they used to learn proper brushing techniques.

The news conference was scheduled in conjunction with the kick-off of National Children's Dental Health Month across the country. Dr. Curland said county health administrators, along with the Anne Arundel County Dental Society, are planning several activities this month to promote good dental health, including presentations to first-graders at all elementary schools and a dental fair at the Annapolis Mall on Saturday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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