A Victim Of The Welfare State

There is much discussion in the local media here in Washington D.C. about this tragic story:

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

The article itself focuses on the alleged lack of dental care coverage for the poor and apporvingly quotes those who argue for the expansion of Medcaid benefits in this area.

But that’s not the only lesson you can draw from this tragic event. Consider, for example, what this boys mother did in response to an obviously serious dental problem:

When Deamonte got sick, his mother had not realized that his tooth had been bothering him. Instead, she was focusing on his younger brother, 10-year-old DaShawn, who “complains about his teeth all the time,” she said.

DaShawn saw a dentist a couple of years ago, but the dentist discontinued the treatments, she said, after the boy squirmed too much in the chair. Then the family went through a crisis and spent some time in an Adelphi homeless shelter. From there, three of Driver’s sons went to stay with their grandparents in a two-bedroom mobile home in Clinton.

By September, several of DaShawn’s teeth had become abscessed. Driver began making calls about the boy’s coverage but grew frustrated. She turned to Norris, who was working with homeless families in Prince George’s.

Norris and her staff also ran into barriers: They said they made more than two dozen calls before reaching an official at the Driver family’s Medicaid provider and a state supervising nurse who helped them find a dentist.

On Oct. 5, DaShawn saw Arthur Fridley, who cleaned the boy’s teeth, took an X-ray and referred him to an oral surgeon. But the surgeon could not see him until Nov. 21, and that would be only for a consultation. Driver said she learned that DaShawn would need six teeth extracted and made an appointment for the earliest date available: Jan. 16.

But she had to cancel after learning Jan. 8 that the children had lost their Medicaid coverage a month earlier. She suspects that the paperwork to confirm their eligibility was mailed to the shelter in Adelphi, where they no longer live.

The natural instinct for any parent faced with this situation would be, I think, to do whatever it took to make sure that your child received proper medical, or in this case dental, care. Remember we’re not talking about a cavity here, or teeth that are misaligned and need braces, we are talking about an infection that ultimately killed her son.

With all due respect to a mother who has lost her son, it seems that the only thing she did was rely on Medicaid (i.e., the state) to take care of this. From the article, there appears to have been no consideration of looking to a church or charity for help, for example, or, quite honestly, doing whatever it took to make sure your child received the care they needed.

This is what happens when people become dependent on the welfare state.

  • Damien Kane

    Disgusting. The woman should be thrown in jail for this sort of negligence. If someone can do six months for leaving his or her kid alone in a car, this woman should spend the rest of her life locked well away from children.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    And then what?

  • Aimee

    I’m suprised no one thought to send him to a dental school. Usually fees are small if they charge at all. If I was in a dire situation like that, I would rather have a student take care of it, than let it go and rely on Medicaid. Having been on Medicaid before and having to deal with endless wait times on the phone and getting the run around, I look for an alternative. I would go to the dentist anyway, say I’m waiting on Medicaid. I would rather get a big bill I couldn’t pay off than not get the care my kids needed. I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with Medicaid anymore.

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis


    Throwing her in jail doesn’t seem to me to be an option.


    Your question about dental school (an option I hadn’t even thought of actually) is an example of what I think the problem is here. When people become dependent on the state to “take care” of them, they don’t necessarily think of any other alternatives.

  • Damien Kane

    Doug – why not?

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis


    I misspoke slightly. I agree that, potentially, her failure to act could arise to the level of criminal child neglect. However, I don’t think punishing her at this point accomplishes anything.

  • Damien Kane


    I disagree. It sends a message that you can’t just collect welfare and ignore the welfare of your kids. It sends the message that when you enter the world of parenthood you have certain responsibilities and shouldn’t be able to get away with neglecting your child while he’s slowly dying.

    Further, it would take her far away from the kids she still has, who I doubt will fare much better than Deamonte did.

  • http://thecoachswife.blogspot.com The Coach’s Wife

    What happened to basic dental care in the first place? The kids wouldn’t have had problems with their teeth had they been brushing and flossing from the start. Last time I looked a toothbrush could be purchased for under $2.00 and a tube of toothpaste for about $3.00 (and that’s for the good stuff) and each will last you about 3 months. So, $5.00 in basic dental care could have saved a kid’s life. Five whole dollars. Think about how much the taxpayers would have saved over 2 surgeries and 6 weeks of medical care.

    Apparently, Medicaid doesn’t teach you how to brush your teeth twice a day.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    VRB, what do you mean by “and then what?”

  • http://www.gop.org. RavingRepublican

    This would not be a problem if his parents were not so lazy and would have gotten more jobs. At minimum wage an 80 tooth extraction is only 16-20 hours of work or a couple of pints of blood. The only thing bad about this is the waste of tax dollars it is going to take to investigate the “problem”. It makes you want to go out and hug an executive for paying so much in taxes to see them wasted like this.

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis


    True, and while this mother should bear the majority of the responsibility for what happened IMO, it’s also true that she was acting in response to incentives created by a welfare system that she has apparently been a part of for quite some time.

  • Aimee

    There was no mention of a father even being in the picture. She already didn’t have custody of her three other sons. I wonder though if she had known that an abcess tooth could kill a person. I sure as hell didn’t know that. I’ve had them before and have dealt with the pain, and other times have gotten medication to help with the pain and clear up the infection. I am by no means defending her actions because as I said before, I would rather rack up a bill I know I couldn’t pay than let my kids suffer, but how many of you knew before this story that an abcess could be fatal?

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    “[H]ow many of you knew before this story that an abcess could be fatal?”

    I didn’t. This is news to me. Whoever said that “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” had no clue what s/he was talking about. How tragic.

  • Mario Panzieri

    That’s a clear cut case of blaming the victim for being incompetent, without having a solid proof she didn’t do all she was able to.

    The fact that one does have freedom and opportunity doesn’t imply solutions will materialize even with a lot of good effort ; people most of the times just turn their back, expecially in a viciously selfish society in which your are assumed to be guilty of being poor.

    Fact is people is _scared_ by this situation, but lack the courage of saying “enough of this in the richest most powerful country in the world” and prefer to blame the person , so that they don’t think they are _exactly_ in the same country and same boat…that’s pure denial.

    Go ahead, just blame her. Wonder who will help you when it is your turn.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    I was responding to this statement.

    “From the article, there appears to have been no consideration of looking to a church or charity for help, for example, or, quite honestly, doing whatever it took to make sure your child received the care they needed.”

    I think to much is read into the article as to what kind of parent she is. I have gotten the impression, if she had of known her son had an infection that bad she would have tried to get him to a dentist on time. You can’t always read the mind of your child. I knew someone who lost a leg, because he didn’t tell his mother his leg had been punctured by an umbrella spoke. He told her when infection got bad; by that time, gangrene had set in.

    I live where there are two dental schools. When you visit in an emergency, you have to have cash in hand, you never know the first time how much you need. One school is rather cheap and the other almost the same as a regular dentist.

  • Julie

    Some of the comments above are shocking. Some people say, “why doesn’t she get a job” or “she is lazy” or “why didn’t she seek additional help.” Is it possible that she is one of the many poor and uneducated members of the lower class? This is not necessarily her fault. Suppose she came from a poor and uneducated family, who was there to teacher anything more?

    Sociologists often comment on the vicious cycle that occurs in the lower socio-economic classes whether it is within black communities in inner cities or white communities in the poor towns of the Appalachian mountains. They have something in common. People in these communities believe that they cannot achieve anything beyond modest goals. Many believe that they will never have the opportunity to go to college or to “be somebody” because they are growing up poor. In fact, many continue this false belief by teaching their children the same false ideas, passing them on through generation after generation. It is only the very strong and ambitious that break the cycle. All others are too scared and ignorant to know any better. The worst part is that no one is telling them any different.

    For example, no one is telling high school children in these communities that furthering their education is possible through student loans and other programs. Sure someone may be telling kids that the programs exist but no one is guiding them through the steps and showing them how to deal with obstacles. Making it worse, schools in these communities are often not helping the situation. The state of education is typically very poor because of a lack of money and a lack of qualified teachers. So, these children are receiving a sub-standard education. If they graduate, they are coming out of school less smart than their counterparts in other communities. So, the cycle continues.

    Bad information + a lack of education = crazy stories like this one. To those who say poor people have problems like this because they are “lazy” or “dumb”, I say stop blaming this mother for not knowing and do something to inform people that they do have options in life other than to rely on “the system”.

  • Lakitha

    This is an example of Republican politics. The cutting of services to true citizens is their agenda. As a person, who has worked in the area of Managed Care, I can forsee that scenarios like this will continue if our elected officials do not concentrate their efforts on things such as job creation to insure that individuals will be obtainable for working individuals. To keep individuals on Medicaid is a fortune for the government. This woman and her child are victims of bureaucracy.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    Let’s consider a few things.

    1. Lakitha blames this on “Republican politics” cutting services to “true citizens”. Of course, what she appears not to know is that this Republican government has vastly expanded the welfare services provided via Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind. Medicaid has not been cut by the Federal Government (i.e. the Bush Administration). Medicaid (Title XIX of the Federal Code) mandates specific minimum levels that the States must provide in order to receive Federal funding. Any cuts to Medicaid in the past 6 years have been due to States choosing to cut services over and above those minimums, which the Federal government does not fund.

    2. Julie is “shocked” and blames the social environment of the poor. What she doesn’t seem to connect the dots on is that the schools are run by the government (i.e. socialism), the services in the communities are run by the government (i.e. socialism), many of the children are more or less raised in government run community centers (i.e. socialism), the healthcare and welfare programs are run by the government (i.e. socialism). There is a theme here. If we look at other countries (especially the former Warsaw Pact) and the issues they have had with citizen dependency because of socialist programs, that theme begins to make sense.

    3. Mario thinks it the USA is the most selfish, vicious country in the world, apparently unaware of the fact that we give more money to charity per capita, volunteer more time in charitable causes per capita, than any other first world nation. Apparently unaware of the fact that, mostly without complaint, more than 60% of our taxes go to social programs intended to provide safety nets for the poor and vulnerable. He then chastises us for blaming this woman for not doing everything in her power for the health of her child. Thus, he perpetuates the cycle of dependency. Mario is an enabler of the problem, not someone that would try to empower her.

    4. VRB is correct that this woman appears to have tried to help her child. That said, it is clear that many alternatives were available. I work for a not for profit that would have helped this woman if she were in our area of operations and we were aware of her need, for example. To suggest that she is blameless and the entire fault lays on bureaucracy does not recognize the responsibility of the adult parent for their child.

    Finally, all of the comments make one thing very clear. Government bureaucracy is always the worst possible solution to social problems like this.

  • http://www.gop.org. RavingRepublican

    Death breaks the cycle of dumb.

    BTW, Call me cynical but bureaucracy is never a solution to any problem Government or not.

    LIBERALS: We should make provision for the Poor and Destitute. They
    suffer greatly! Many thousands are in want of common
    necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common

    Tax Payers: I can’t afford to make idle people merry.
    Are there no prisons? The Union workhouses; They still in
    operation? The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full
    vigor? I support those establishments. They cost enough;
    and those who are badly off must go there.

    LIBERALS: Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.

    Tax Payers: If they would rather die they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population and let us get on with life.