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Message from the Hill

Legislative advocates welcome dental leaders to nation's capital

May 10, 2012

By Craig Palmer, ADA News staff

Washington—Bipartisan lawmakers championed dental legislation and thanked dental leaders at the May 7-9 Washington Leadership Conference for their advocacy.

Advocacy: ‘Even in this environment things are getting done,’ Rep. Diana DeGette (3rd from left, D-Colo.) tells WLC audience; smiles afterward with Dr. Kenneth Peters, Dr. Jeffery Hurst, Dr. Kenneth Versman, Dr. Jeane Schoemaker and Dr. Richard Quinn Dufurrena. ADA News photo by Stan Barouh.

The annual springtime WLC attracted more than 300 dentists and state dental executives among some 450 registrants from 49 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.

Dr. Mark Peppard of Austin, Texas, introduced Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-Texas), to the WLC audience as “a strong advocate for health care legislation,” and Dr. Jeane Schoemaker introduced Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) as “a tireless advocate for the health care of America’s families.” Reps. Burgess and DeGette spoke of their legislative advocacy on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and in congressional leadership.

Rep. Burgess told of his “cordial disagreement” with the Federal Trade Commission over “some activities that I thought were direct interference with state regulation of the practice of medicine and dentistry,” including an FTC complaint against the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners over teeth whitening services provided in shopping malls by non-dentists.

Leadership moment: Dr. Richard Huot (left), ADPAC treasurer, and Dr. William R. Calnon, ADA president, discuss Washington Leadership Conference proceedings. Photo by Stan Barouh.

“The state board of dental examiners said, you know, this actually looks to us like the practice of dentistry,” Rep. Burgess said. “It does to me, too. But the Federal Trade Commission viewed this as an issue of competition. It’s tied up in the courts right now. But honestly, in the interest of patients, the responsibility of the state medical and dental board in the scope of practice is a time-honored arena in which they participate in patient safety.

“The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t really have any experience in dealing with patient safety so they’re treading in an area where they really don’t belong. At this point we are in cordial disagreement. Discussions with the FTC and our office are ongoing and this is not something I intend to let go easily.”

ADA President: Dr. William R. Calnon (right) thanks Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-Texas) for WLC presentation as Dr. Mark Peppard applauds. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Rep. Burgess is vice chair of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and founder and chair of the Congressional Health Care Caucus. Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the two dentists in the House of Representatives, have participated in caucus events. The caucus does not have formal membership.

Rep. DeGette, chief deputy whip of the Democratic Caucus and ranking Democrat on E&C’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, spoke of her successful efforts to include pediatric oral health and stand-alone dental plan provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which is undergoing Supreme Court review. The court is looking at the constitutionality of the ACA’s individual mandate and a ruling is expected during the current term, which ends in June.

“I’ve never seen Congress more dysfunctional than it is now, but even in this environment things are getting done,” Rep. DeGette told the dental leaders.

Against that grain, Rep. DeGette, as chief sponsor, is pushing ADA-initiated legislation to assist low-income individuals in obtaining medically recommended dental care. “And I thank you in advance for going over to the Hill and lobbying for this bill. You can tell them it’s a bipartisan bill.” Many of the dental delegations scheduled meetings and social events with their representatives and senators and congressional staff during the WLC.

Pollster: Stuart Rothenberg handicaps the ‘stuff’ of political races, elections for Washington Leadership Conference audience. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) signed on to the Coordination of Pro Bono Medically Recommended Dental Care Act, H.R. 4091, on May 8 during the Washington Leadership Conference, and five Democrats signed on as cosponsors May 9: Reps. William Lacy Clay (Mo.), Marcia Fudge (Ohio), Gene Green (Texas), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.) and Mike Ross (Ark.).

The legislation would authorize up to $2 million a year in grants over five years to support the coordination of medically recommended dental care that would be provided by volunteer dentists at no cost to low income patients who have medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, autoimmune or kidney disease or need heart or joint replacements or transplants. More than 30 national dental, other health and social organizations support the legislation. Similar legislation, S. 1878, was offered by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).