A growing number of states and tribal communities are allowing dentists to employ dental therapists to help meet the growing need for routine dental care.
The Pew Charitable Trust defines dental therapists as “midlevel providers, similar to physician assistants in medicine, whom dentists hire to extend quality care to more patients, expand their practices, and deliver treatment to underserved populations.” They can also bring care directly to schools or nursing homes under the supervision of a dentist. Dental therapists provide preventive and routine care, such as filling cavities, placing temporary crowns on teeth, and extracting severely diseased or loose teeth.
Writing for The Huffington Post, Sam Cohen examined the potential benefits of increasing the number of dental therapists. Cohen says dental teams across the nation are being expanded to include mid-level workers, many of whom are considered dental therapists. “More states like Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, and Washington are lending an ear to such proposals to legalize [dental therapists].”
In a recent Research & Commentary, State Government Relations Manager Logan Pike argues dental therapy is gaining popularity throughout the United States. “In 2009, Minnesota became the first state to authorize the licensing of dental therapists. In 2016, legislation was filed in 12 states to authorize dental therapists. Dental therapists are currently practicing in Alaska and Minnesota, and they have been authorized to practice in Vermont and in tribal communities in Oregon and Washington State, which are in the process of implementing their laws.”
Eric Boehm, a reporter at Reason.com, examines the dentist shortage in a recent Hit & Run blog post. Boehm argues in favor of reforming state dental licensing laws to help increase the number of dental therapists. “Children’s Dental Services … treats about 30,000 patients each year, mostly from the Twin Cities’ Hispanic, Hmong and Somali immigrant communities. The dental therapy model was first adopted by nonprofits and community clinics to lower costs, says Karl Self, the director of the University of Minnesota’s therapy program. But now, Dr. Self adds, private practices are hiring dental therapists, too. ‘We’re seeing that dental therapists can add value to the overall oral health team,’ he says.”
The field of dentistry is changing, and states desperately need to reform the care delivery system to address oral-health needs. Regular access to basic check-ups can prevent the majority of painful and costly dental issues. Dental therapists can improve the productivity and efficiency of dental practices, help increase access to care, give dentists the option to serve more patients inside and outside the office, and free up dentists to focus on more complicated procedures.
Lawmakers should work to close gaps in dental-care access by reforming dental licensing laws to allow for dental therapists and ensure patients get preventive and restorative treatment when and where they need it.
What We’re Working On
Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: South Carolina Pension System Needs Reform
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines pension reform proposals in South Carolina and argues the state should follow the private sector’s lead by switching workers to defined-contribution plans. “Defined-contribution plans give workers direct control over retirement funds and enable them to change jobs without losing accrued pension benefits. They also allow governments to budget more accurately because the benefits are a set amount of money each year. Only then can South Carolina eliminate the burden of future pension liabilities, avert the pension crisis, and make budgeting more predictable,” Glans wrote. Read more
Florida Court Dismisses Teacher Union Lawsuit Against Tax-Credit Scholarships
Florida’s First District Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTCSP), dismissing a lawsuit the state’s teachers union and other groups brought against the program, writes Elizabeth BeShears on Heartland.org. Florida launched FTCSP in 2001 to provide students of low-income households with scholarships worth up to $5,886 per year to spend on private school tuition. Corporations that donate to the scholarship program receive a tax credit on corporate income and insurance premium taxes. The Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Florida State Conference, and others sued the state in 2014, alleging FTCSP is unconstitutional because it violates the state’s Blaine amendment. In May 2015, a Leon County Circuit Court judge dismissed the case, ruling the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue because they failed to show FTCSP harmed public education. In August 2016, a three-judge panel affirmed the 2015 ruling, writing in their decision, “Despite arguing that public funds have been diverted from the public school system, [the plaintiffs] make no argument whatsoever that public school funding has actually declined.” Read more
Energy & Environment
Research & Commentary: Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Institute President and CEO Joseph Bast and Policy Analyst Tim Benson discuss a new Environmental Protection Agency draft technical assessment that says U.S. automobile manufacturers are not on pace to meet the updated CAFE standards set by the Obama administration in 2012 – even though the report says the manufacturers have the technical ability to do so. CAFE imposes fees on car and truck manufacturers if they fail to achieve minimum targets for sales-weighted average fuel economy, which is expressed in miles per gallon (mpg). The 2012 CAFE standards mandate a current fuel economy of 35.5 mpg fleetwide. By 2025, CAFE will rise to 54.5 mpg fleetwide. Light-truck emissions in the United States account for only 1.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, and Bast and Benson say raising CAFE standards will not achieve the greenhouse-gas emissions reduction desired by the standard’s proponents. Read more
Research & Commentary: There’s Nothing ‘Free’ About the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Free-Market’ Plan for Medicaid Expansion
Some Republican-controlled states have expanded their Medicaid programs using reforms they have labeled as “free-market,” even though the policies enhance the power of government and are fiscally irresponsible. Other states have considered using funds from the pot of allegedly “free” dollars offered by the federal government to expand Medicaid, even though many states have learned the hard way these funds have detrimental strings attached to them.
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines several plans for Medicaid expansion in Georgia and argues expansion is a bad idea. “Georgia legislators should continue to resist Medicaid expansion and instead reform their fiscally unsustainable program in ways that offer better care to enrollees and lower costs for taxpayers,” Glans wrote. Read more
From Our Free-Market Friends
Study: Cost Effectiveness of the Earned Income Tax Credit as a Health Policy Investment
A recent study published by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and promoted by The Empire Center in a recent NYTorch blog post praised New York State’s Earned Income Tax Credit. The study estimates recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) benefit from of an additional 2.2 years of healthy life on average compared to those who live in states without EITC. The authors of the study, which was published in the September 7 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, say EITC is cost-effective and argues relatively small investments in EITC might reduce poverty and improve health and life expectancy.