In a new Heartland Policy Brief, “The State Lawmaker’s Case for Legalizing Dental Therapy,” Research Fellow Michael Hamilton and former State Government Relations Manager Charlie Katebi make a compelling case for expanding dental access through dental therapy.
Hamilton and Katebi begin the Policy Brief with some disturbing facts about the state of dentistry. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 17 percent of Americans (58 million people) live in “dental care health professional shortage areas.”
Even worse, for many Americans, dental services are unaffordable. In 2017, almost half of low-income families admitted that they did not recently visit a dentist because the service is too expensive, not covered by insurance, or unavailable nearby, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Consequently, emergency room (ER) doctors become the dentist-of-last-resort for low-income patients. ADA found patients visited ERs more than two million times for dental conditions in 2015, costing taxpayers $2 billion.
Fortunately, dental therapy has developed as a legitimate, safe practice of dentistry, which can increase dental care access and affordability. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Research has confirmed that [dental therapists] provide high-quality, cost-effective routine care and improve access to treatment in parts of the country where dentists are scarce.”
Unfortunately, adoption of dental therapy in this country has been monumentally slow. Currently, 43 states completely outlaw dental therapy. Only four (Alaska, Minnesota, Maine, and Vermont) of the seven states that do approve dental therapy allow therapists to serve all patients, not just certain population groups.
Recently, lawmakers in several states have recognized the potential health and financial gains dental therapy could give to their constituents and have introduced legislation that would legalize the practice. For example, Idaho has pending legislation that would authorize an aspirant to practice dental therapy after he or she graduates from an accredited dental therapy school and completes 500 hours of clinical practice under the direct supervision of a dentist.
Hamilton and Katebi “applaud and affirm the efforts of dentists and lawmakers to reach underserved patients. Legalizing the hire of dental therapists by willing dentists does not in any way jeopardize concurrent efforts. We submit that the more options lawmakers authorize, the more options dentists will have at their disposal to reach patients in need, with the help of their hired dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental therapists.”
State legislators across the country can expect to receive a complimentary copy of “The State Lawmaker’s Case for Legalizing Dental Therapy” included with the March edition of Heartland’s Health Care News.
What We’re Working On
Budget & Tax
Washington E-Cigarette Tax Will Vaporize Tobacco Harm Reduction
In this Research & Commentary, State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines new legislation that would apply a 95 percent tax on e-cigarettes and vaping devices. “Targeted tax increases hurt everyone and do not provide a solution to the real issue: too much government spending. Nebraska lawmakers ought to balance the state budget without increasing unnecessary, regressive taxes,” wrote Stroud.
Expanding the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships Program Would Help More Low-Income Sooners
In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson evaluates proposals in the Oklahoma Legislature that would expand the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships program, a tax-credit scholarship (TCS) program for students from low-income families. The Senate proposal would increase this annual cap to $10 million, while the House proposal would increase it to $30 million. The Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships program, enacted in 2011, had 2,920 participating students at 94 schools during the 2017–18 school year, providing scholarships valuing $2,159, on average. Roughly 80 percent of Oklahoma children are income-eligible for the program.
Energy & Environment
Connecticut Considers Regressive Carbon-Dioxide Tax and Misguided Energy Extraction Bans
In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses multiple proposals in Connecticut that would ban all fossil-fuel development and establish a carbon-dioxide tax that would increase energy costs and harm low-income residents. One proposal would ban all “natural gas extraction activities” and “oil extraction activities” throughout the state, as well as the storage and disposal of waste from oil and gas extraction activities. Another would seek to set a “carbon [dioxide] pricing structure” in Connecticut. These proposals would make everything more expensive for working families in Connecticut, drive up costs for businesses, and have an insignificant effect on global carbon-dioxide emissions.
Medicaid Expansion Bad for Oklahoma
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines a Medicaid expansion proposal in Oklahoma that would dramatically increase costs while doing little to improve health care outcomes. “Oklahoma lawmakers should reject Medicaid expansion. Instead, they should use Section 1115 waivers to institute free-market reforms that will increase access to high-quality, affordable health care without growing state budgets or the national debt,” wrote Glans.
From Our Free Market Friends
The Private School Teacher Skills Gap: What K–12 Private School Educators Know and What They Need to Know
This new report from EdChoice seeks to find out if private school educators need a different set of skills than public school educators to be successful. Teaming with Hanover Research, EdChoice surveyed private school teachers and leaders across three states, including a substantial subset that had taught in public and private schools. They identify opportunities to improve teacher preparation programs based on their findings.
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