by Susan L. Wood, D.D.S.
On March 28, hundreds of dentists and student dentists took time away from practice and studies to advocate for our profession as part of the inaugural ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day. It marked the very first time that we, dentists who understand the importance of advocacy and the advantages of being involved in organized dentistry, partnered with a newer generation of like-minded students, to take issues that involve all of us to those who call the shots in D.C.
Before I get to the nuts and bolts of Lobby Day, I urge every AAE member to participate in ADA advocacy efforts in D.C. by participating in ADA Engage and the Legislative Action Network, and by supporting ADPAC. The ADA does the heavy lifting in Washington for all of dentistry, and these are easy ways to support those efforts. Too often, we think of advocacy as something done for us as opposed to something done by us.
I attended Lobby Day as the AAE's representative to the ADPAC board and also as a member of the Arizona delegation. A number of AAE members also participated as part of their state delegations. Lobby Day focused on several issues of importance to dentistry:
The ADA scored a victory just before Lobby Day that impacted the agenda. On March 22, the House of Representatives passed a long-sought bill that would rescind the exemption health insurers have from certain parts of the antitrust laws. The ADA, with support of the AAE and other dental specialties, has spent extensive time and effort lobbying for this.
H.R. 372, the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2017, was introduced by dentist-member Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and was cosponsored by Reps. Drew Ferguson (R-GA) and Brian Babin (R-TX), both also dentists. It passed overwhelmingly (416-7).H.R. 372 now goes to the Senate. ADA/ASDA Lobby Day participants visited key senators, armed with talking points in support of the bill. The central message was that the role of the antitrust laws is to promote lower prices, greater consumer choice, and increased innovation through hearty competition, and that the exemption enjoyed by health insurers conflicts with that.
If the bill becomes law, it will inject more competition into the insurance marketplace by authorizing greater federal antitrust enforcement in instances where state regulators fail to act.
Student Loan Relief
The second issue that we took to the Hill is one that is near and dear to, not only the students, but to the many of us still paying off student debt. Student loan programs are incorporated into the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), and though the HEA is subject to periodic reauthorization, it is currently overdue and only temporarily extended.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has jurisdiction over HEA reauthorization as well as any freestanding student debt relief bills. Its chairman, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), has stated that the HELP Committee only will address student loan issues through the reauthorization act. In other words, it will not consider freestanding legislation passed by the House.
Therefore, we lobbied for a set of key strategies for reducing student debt burden. The AAE has joined the ADA and other dental specialties in communicating these principles to key members of Congress.
The ADA emphasized that the dynamic in Washington is too complex to predict what direction health reform will take. The focus of Lobby Day was broad principles on the following topics:
Access to care
We urged our representatives to ensure that recent gains in access to oral health service are not lost, regardless of what happens with health care reform. Studies have shown that sound oral health leads to better education outcomes for children and better employment outcomes for adults. In addition, evidence continues to show that good oral health provides savings in other medical areas, such as decreasing the number of emergency room visits for dental-related pain and infection.
Our Hill visits focused on Medicaid reform, including preserving those programs and benefits that protect oral health services for children and to allow states to preserve or expand adult dental benefits; assuring transparency of dental plan benefits to support consumer choice; and preserving or expanding use of pre-tax dollars to help purchase coverage.
Funding of oral health research
The final issue was the funding of dental research. Under President Trump's first proposed budget to Congress, NIH funding would be cut by $6 million, a 20% decrease. This may have a dramatic impact on dental research. The National Institute for Dental and Cranial Research is an independent agency within NIH and is funded through NIH. NIDCR is the largest institute in the world dedicated to research in oral and craniofacial health. The AAE supports efforts by the ADA and NIDCR to increase or maintain funding for NIDCR.
The Lobby Day member dentists and students encouraged our members of Congress, especially those that are on the House Budget Committee, to reject these budget cuts to NIH funding.
This Lobby Day made me especially proud. I'm proud that a dentist, from my own state of Arizona, introduced a bill that has a profound effect on all health care providers and patients, and that the bill passed with such a large bipartisan vote. I'm proud that there are still those in the younger generations of dentistry who realize the importance of advocating for dentistry and our patients.
Please get involved, whether through ADA Engage, through your state dental association or wherever you feel you can contribute and help advocate for positive change. Because "ONE VOICE UNITED" makes so much more of an impact, and is so much more powerful, when we turn one thousand, into TEN THOUSAND.
Dr. Susan L. Wood is a partner at Phoenix Endodontic Group in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Endodontics and serves on the Foundation for Endodontics Board of Trustees. For more information about participating in dental advocacy, contact Dr. Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.