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Ohio dentists are pressing the Legislature for Medicaid reforms this spring while investing in their own solution to the health care crisis.

The state currently ranks 40th in the nation in reimbursement for Medicaid dental services, with the program operating on a fee schedule developed in 2000, according to David Owsiany, executive director of the Ohio Dental Association.

“We’re using that data to educate policy makers,” he said.

Dentists will ask the Legislature to increase funding for the state Medicaid program. But they are also offering a solution of their own: To incentivize students to practice in underserved communities.

The Ohio Dentist Student Loan Repayment Program, which was initiated by Ohio dentists, provides money to students who are willing to practice in underserved areas and provide services to Medicaid-eligible patients. Students can receive up to $25,000 per year for the first two years and up to $35,000 for a third year of service. 

The program is funded by a surcharge in the state dental licensing fee. Dentists in Ohio must renew their licenses every two years.

The Ohio Dental Association is proposing to double the surcharge from $20 to $40, which would in turn double the program’s annual funding.

 “We want to demonstrate that dentists are willing to pitch in on access issues,” said Owsiany.

The Ohio Dental Association is also asking the Legislature to:

• Establish a temporary professional license for volunteer dental providers, which would allow out-of-state dentists to provide services during Missions of Mercy events in Ohio.

• Expand the “Choose Ohio First” program, which currently provides scholarship opportunities to primary care physicians, to also include dental students.

• Support local efforts to maintain or begin community water fluoridation programs.

• Expand training for dentists to enhance their skills in treating geriatric patients.

“We’re looking at this systematically rather than how we’ve done this in the past,” Owsiany said. “Instead of drafting separate bills every couple of years, let’s make a substantial change now.”