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Here Is Your Horrifying Story Of Sleazy Texas Dentists Preying Upon Low-Income Children

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You know what we love to do on the weekends here at yr Wonkette? We like to kick back and read some longreads. Who doesn't love to dig into a nice meaty story while drinking a cup of coffee or nursing a hangover or regretting who you brought home last night (or perhaps all three at once)? It's informative and relaxing all at the same time. Let's see what we have this week, hmmmm?

How about an enormous story from the Houston Chronicle on Medicaid dentists who deliberately overtreat pediatric patients in order to pocket some sweet government cash? Sure, sounds great! Let's just see how it starts.

For three months, Courissa Hall essentially lived in a Houston rehabilitation hospital providing care for her 4-year-old daughter, who suffered brain damage during a routine appointment at a local dental clinic that specialized in treating Medicaid patients.

She's still processing the calamity that left her daughter Nevaeh, healthy and rambunctious before the January appointment, now unable to walk or talk or respond to instructions. The victim of apparent overmedication at the clinic, Nevaeh lies in bed, a feeding tube providing her nutrition, her limbs contracting involuntarily from neurological damage.

Goddammit Houston Chronicle. This is not relaxing. This is terrifying and heartbreaking as fuck. This is not making our hangover any better nor making us regret last night's choices any less. Maybe this gets less awful as time goes on? Maybe there is what fancy newspapers like to call "context" and it will make this make sense in a non-horrifying way? Maybe this is all about how some intrepid dental crusaders later saved Neveah?

NOPE. Well, there is context, but we still pretty much take a hard left into dangerous, sleazy, and dangerously sleazy tactics.

It seems that back in 2007, Texas doubled the Medicaid reimbursement rate it paid to dentists who see Medicaid patients. The free market being what it is, everyone jumped at the opportunity and now the gubmint reimburses Texas Medicaid dentists to the tune of $1 billion per year.

Now, you may be saying "hey Wonkette, we Wonk denizens are generally semi-socialist types! We are pretty cool with the government giving money to health care practitioners on behalf of patients!" True true, Wonkafarian, true true. But you are probably not in favor of this:

Lawyers, dentists and pediatric patients' parents have alleged the clinics, often propped up by corporate entities, overbill Medicaid and put at great risk the most vulnerable patients -- children. Nowhere is the problem greater than in Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its data shows 160 ongoing Medicaid dental fraud investigations in Texas, by far the most in the nation.

For the clinics, the lure is a government system that financially rewards dentists who perform multiple procedures. In formal complaints, lawsuits and public writings, critics allege the clinics rush children through dental treatment by heavy use of sedative drugs and with straitjacket-like restraint devices known as papoose boards.

Papoose boards! That doesn't sound so bad. Kinda racist, but maybe sort of warm and friendly and embracing?

Huh. Turns out that children -- and their parents -- find it unnerving as all get out to have their kid completely immobilized or sedated or both, particularly for unnecessary dental procedures. On top of that, medical professionals kinda frown on it too.

Dr. Dennis McTigue, an Ohio State University professor of pediatric dentistry and president of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, said that papoose boards have purposes in treating pediatric dental patients but are best used only in emergency situations.

"The routine practice of restraining a healthy child who has a lot of cavities but nothing urgent with them is wrong," McTigue said. "It flies in the face of everything we believe about protective stabilization.

Also not great: sedating children just for funsies, which is how Neveah, the kid way back at the beginning of this post, ended up brain damaged: she was walloped with far too many sedatives for her 30-pound body and oh also the dentist didn't call emergency services for another four hours after things took a turn for the worse.

Well, this was appalling, wasn't it? Lesson learned: don't read anything longer than the back of a whiskey bottle on weekends ever again.

[Houston Chronicle]

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