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Access-to-Care Bill Passes in Ohio: Major Win for Dentists, Underserved Populations

January 5, 2015 

The Ohio Dental Association on Dec. 19, 2014, scored a major win after Gov. John Kasich signed a bill aimed at improving access to dental care in underserved areas of the state.

The bill will double the capacity of the Ohio Dentist Student Loan Repayment program, which provides money to students who are willing to practice in underserved areas and deliver care to Medicaid-eligible patients. Since the program’s inception in 2003, 23 dentists have relocated to practice in underserved areas, according to David Owsiany, executive director of the Ohio Dental Association.

“We know there are dentists who are graduating with immense amounts of loan debt, and this is one way they can get some relief from that,” said Mr. Owsiany. “Most importantly, the citizens of Ohio get the benefit of having another dental provider in their community.”

The program is funded by a surcharge in the state dental licensing fee. Dentists in Ohio must renew their licenses every two years. The surcharge will rise from $20 to $40, doubling the program’s annual funding.

The bill also creates the Medicaid Payment Rates for Dental Services Workgroup – composed of legislators, practicing dentists, and representatives of the Ohio Department of Medicaid and Ohio Department of Public Health – to analyze the current Medicaid program and make recommendations on improving reimbursement levels and policies.

The workgroup is expected to report its findings to the governor and members of the Ohio General Assembly during 2015 state budget deliberations.

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, said Mr. Owsiany. On average, Ohio Medicaid reimburses dentists less than 40 percent of their regular fee, while the typical dental office overhead is 60 percent to 65 percent.

Additionally, the legislation:

• Establishes a temporary professional license for volunteer dental providers, which will allow out-of-state dentists to provide services during free care events such as Give Kids A Smile, Missions of Mercy and other programs.

• Expand the "Choose Ohio First" program, which currently provides scholarship opportunities to primary care physicians, to also include dental students, in hope of increasing the number of dentists practicing in Ohio.

• Bolsters dental residency programs by creating an alternative pathway to licensure for residents who complete an accredited program. Approved graduates can be licensed by the state without taking a regional board examination. 

“This bill will improve access to much needed dental care for all Ohioans in a safe, effective way,” said Dr. Thomas Paumier, Ohio Dental Association president. “The Ohio Dental Association would like to thank the governor and the General Assembly for passing this important legislation.”