Poor patients’ access to care is being blocked by dentists’ lobby since over 5 years ago.
In the U.S. having dental insurance doesn’t necessary translate into actually having access to dental care, especially if the insurance is Medicaid.
It is extremely hard for many patients to find dentists who accept Medicaid, especially in Washington which is the state with the lowest rates of reimbursement for dental care through Medicaid.
This affects especially non-white folks – Native Americans, Latinos and Black people which usually have a very poor oral health as a result.
The solution found by public-health officials and health advocates was to hire dental therapists, a system that already works in Alaska and Minnesota.
Dental therapists are the physician assistants of dental health. They are health care professionals with midlevel licences who are able to perform simple procedures such as cleanings, filling cavities and even pulling teeth. The dental therapists are a lot cheaper to train than dentists, their training takes a lot less time and effort and their services are cheaper.
Despite all these benefits and efforts lasting since five years ago, dental therapists are not yet hireable in Washington as a result of the strong lobby of the Dental Association, the powerful trade group of dentists.
The executive director of the Dental Association argues that dental therapists can pose risks to patients since they are not trained to deal with serious dental problems.
The lobby of Washington’s Dental Association comes as a part of the stronger national-lever American Dental Association which has opposed dental therapists nationwide.
Despite more studies which revealed that dental therapists are able to provide quality dental care and can even boost dentists’ revenue by referring patients with serious conditions to them, the lobbyists are still making efforts to denigrate them and declare them unsafe.
Killpack says that the state should instead raise the reimbursement rates for Medicaid, which now pays only 29 cents on the dollar and the dentists have to absorb the rest.
At the same tie health advocates are angry and frustrated that poor patients’ access to care is being blocked by dentists’ lobby. According to the Seattle non-profit Children’s Alliance’s deputy director John Gould the Dental Association has a disproportionate power in Washington’s legislative arena.
Gould believes that dental therapists could make a huge sustainable difference in the long-term access to care for the whole population, not only for the middle class and the rich as it is the case in this moment.
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