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News & Press: Legislative Issues

Dental therapy plan set for public hearing

Wednesday, August 21, 2019   (0 Comments)
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The Senate's health committee is set to consider a bill Wednesday that would allow dental therapists to practice in Wisconsin.

Supporters of the bill said on a conference call Tuesday that dental therapists, mid-level dental providers that can fill cavities and pull teeth, would increase access to dental care in rural and underserved areas in the state.

“It’s really an important time for Wisconsin to continue to be an innovator in the dental delivery model and join this movement that other states have taken the lead on,” said Matt Crespin, associate director of the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin.

The bipartisan proposal has the backing of a broad coalition, including healthcare providers, free-market think tanks and the state's business lobby.

The Wisconsin Dental Association has registered against the bill, saying a broader strategy is needed to address the state’s dental needs. Bill author Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, said that she’s offered to compromise but has been rebuked.

"I have asked the dental association to sit down and work with me since day one and come up with a negotiated bill and they have refused to do so,” she told reporters. “They've told me that they're here to kill it." 

Matt Rossetto, director of government services at the dental association, disagreed with her characterization.

Their concern is that a lot of the discussion has focused on suggesting that dentists are the “obstacle” to improving access to oral healthcare and therapists are the only solution, he said.

He added that the coalition that’s been backing the proposal hasn’t thrown its support behind a bill that would create a rural dentistry scholarship program. And he said Medicaid rate increases are needed.

Rossetto noted that the dental therapy proposal doesn’t require that dental therapists practice in underserved areas and doesn’t require them to see Medicaid patients, two requirements that exist in Minnesota.

“This is a giant smokescreen,” he said. “It’s a well-run, well-organized PR campaign. But it is not a serious bill.”

Rossetto said they’d be open to a discussion with “serious oral-health oriented groups” on a targeted dental therapy approach that included moving forward on other proposals, like the scholarship program or rate increases.

Felzkowski said on the call that she’d consider a compromise on a targeted approach, but added that 64 out of 72 counties are dental shortage areas.

She added that the measure isn’t meant to be the only solution. Felzkowski supports other ideas too, including the scholarship program backed by the dentists and increasing Medicaid rates.

“But that’s still not going to put enough bodies out into the workforce in the shortage areas to take care of the issue,” she said. 

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