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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The Real Agenda is our series on pocketbook issues that could influence this year’s midterm elections. Polls show a lot of Americans are interested in healthcare. But what about a dental plan? Nearly half of all Americans don’t have one. Dental hygiene affects your ability to eat and work. It also is linked to illnesses like cardiovascular disease. In the next few weeks we’ll air perspectives from average Americans on Real Agenda. Here’s bookstore clerk Moira Manion:
MOIRA MANION: A year ago, the entire left side of my face constantly throbbed with excruciating pain. No over-the-counter medication gave me relief. I never slept for more than three hours. I knew that two upper back molars were abscessed. But I went to my two jobs, six days a week. I didn’t have a choice.
Customers told me to “smile.” I brusquely informed them that smiling hurt. In one exchange, a customer said, “Get your teeth fixed then!” I said, “If you pay for it.”
He said he’d complain to my manager. I wanted to tell him that I was beyond caring about his pathetic ego and blatant ignorance. Obviously he believed that paying a dentist is simply a matter of will.
I did have a choice. I could keep my meager savings or have my teeth pulled. Standing in the oral surgeon’s waiting room, involuntary tears running down my cheeks, I paid my entire savings and had two teeth yanked.
Three weeks later, another molar on my right side became abscessed. I borrowed money from a friend, who’s as poor as I am, to get that pulled.
It may surprise you that I have dental insurance. The premium costs me $50 a month. But on top of that, the co-pay of $75 dollars per tooth was almost more than a person earning minimum wage can afford.
And the first oral surgeon I saw demanded that I pay him more than the co-pay before he would operate. Evidently, he wasn’t sure how much the insurance would cover.
I suspect he did that a lot judging by the pamphlets at reception titled, “Why Doesn’t My Insurance Cover More?”
What if I had been one of the 100 million people without insurance? Would I have had to get a credit card? I’d just spent five years paying off two cards I’d gotten to pay my back rent. I swore I’d never get another one.
There are sliding-scale dental clinics, but they have waiting lists. Do emergency rooms do extractions? God knows what that would cost.
When I hear companies complain about the cost of insuring their workers, I want to ask, what is the cost of workers who are sleep-deprived, in pain and in fear?
How productive are people when taking a breath makes them dizzy with agony? And how loyal are workers when their illness is seen as an inconvenience or an excuse?
THOMAS: That was bookstore clerk Moira Manion. And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us.