Photo of the U.S. Capitol at night time during winter
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Historic… 

America is ready to turn a lot of corners – political, social, and generational – and the Street Sense vendors know it too. Many of them, like so many other Americans, say history is being made in this presidential transition. It has captured their attention and their imagination, and excitement has been running high. 

 … But the same basic challenges remain 

The excitement, though, doesn’t change the basic needs people still face: food and shelter, health care, a way to earn a living, somewhere to live.  

And while homeless people might get lost in the shuffle of both the inauguration and the crisis facing the middle class, they’ll be looking to find their way out the same way as ever, looking for opportunity in the private sector, while hoping the public sector can come through with the emergency help they need. 

The President’s “To-Do” List, and Congress’s  

Since last fall, a lot of concerns have been pushed aside by the economic crisis and plans for a federal economic stimulus package. Others have been rolled into the drive for comprehensive relief legislation.  

So when Congress convened earlier this month, the leadership’s agenda was both less focused, and more ambitious, than the “to-do” lists they brought in two years ago. That’s a result of the economic crisis, and of Democratic control of two branches of government.  

Unfinished business gets a second chance: SCHIP and the dental benefit for children 

One specific item that’s been talked about for a few years now is expanding SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. President Bush vetoed an expansion in 2007, but last week the newly seated House of Representatives voted again to expand the program, including provisions for dental care, and then sent the measure across Capitol Hill where it was approved by the Senate Finance Committee.  

SCHIP pays for health care for children whose family income falls between Medicaid eligibility, and the ability to afford private-market care. The measure the House just approved would expand the dental care available to children covered under the program, including preventive, restorative, and emergency care, as well as opportunities for community health centers to deliver care from private dentists funded through Medicaid and SCHIP.  

The dental care provisions are notable because this part of health care has not always gotten the attention it deserves.  

But plenty of poor people are walking around with broken teeth – it’s that simple, and that bad. Some of them haven’t seen a dentist in years, and some of them grew up without ever seeing a dentist. Bad teeth can be dangerous just like chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension, because they have a way of getting worse if left untreated.  

The dental care provision in the House expansion of SCHIP is just further evidence of a growing recognition of that fact at every level of government.  

And the recent votes set the stage for the Senate and the new president to approve growth in the federal SCHIP program.  

This is the kind of incremental gain in publicly supported health care that has attracted growing interest since the all-at-once push for universal care failed 15 years ago.  

And expanding SCHIP – one specific step in expanding health care – is getting back on the agenda even as widespread economic misery, and the Democratic ascendancy, bring back to people’s minds the old push for universal care.  

But whatever happens, and on whatever scale, dental care expansions can deliver important help to the people who need it the most – at least as long as the economy, the cost of dental care, and personal circumstances put privately paid-for care out of reach.