A 24-year-old Cincinnati father died from a tooth infection this week because he couldn't afford his medication, offering a sobering reminder of the importance of oral health and the number of people without access to dental or health care.
According to NBC affiliate WLWT, Kyle Willis' wisdom tooth started hurting two weeks ago. When dentists told him it needed to be pulled, he decided to forgo the procedure, because he was unemployed and had no health insurance.
When his face started swelling and his head began to ache, Willis went to the emergency room, where he received prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications. Willis couldn't afford both, so he chose the pain medications.
The tooth infection spread, causing his brain to swell. He died Tuesday.
It can't be denied that his poor decision-making was the proximate cause of this guy's death (and many times I've gotten the maddening call from the pharmacy, "Doctor, the patient only wants the narcotics"). The underlying cause, however, was the fact that he was uninsured. Sure, he should have sprung the $4 to buy the penicillin at the big box pharmacy (though clindamycin can be costly, if he was penn-allergic). But he shouldn't have been in the position to need it in the first place. He should have been able to get the tooth pulled -- or better yet, filled before it needed pulling -- before it became abscessed.
Sadly, this problem won't go away when the ACA goes into effect in 2014 (assuming it does). I'm going to speculate here, but if this guy was so poor that the antibiotics were too expensive, he probably will (would've been) covered by medicaid under the ACA, which means that though his prescription probably would be paid for by medicaid, he still would not have had meaningful access to dental care, because most dentists won't see welfare patients.
But hey, at least we don't live in some sort of socialist dystopia where sometimes people have to wait for hip replacements! Our Galtian paradise may be a bit rough, but it's got to be to keep the moochers from running over us.
It sucks that we are the only industrialized country not to have some sort of national insurance plan, it sucks that even the modest reform passed doesn't take effect for three years, if it ever does, and it sucks that people still die as a consequence of being uninsured.
Don't let the wingers tell you that there's no human cost to our crappy patchwork health care system. The children of Kyle Willis can tell you otherwise.