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Dr. Roberts: Code of Ethics sends ‘powerful message’ to public

A conversation with the president-elect

October 17, 2016 Editor’s note: This is the second part of a conversation about issues facing dentistry with Dr. Gary L. Roberts, ADA president-elect, who will be installed as the 153rd president of the American Dental Association Oct. 24 in Denver. Part 1 was printed in the Oct. 3 ADA News. ADA News Editor Judy Jakush interviewed Dr. Roberts.

Dr. Roberts
ADA News:
You’ve been an ADA member some 42 years. How did it begin for you?

Dr. Roberts: I was very fortunate to practice next door to a gentleman named Dr. Kaylan Worley, who was the editor of the Journal of the Louisiana Dental Association. I started my practice in August. In September he came next door and said, “I’ll pick you up to go to the dental meeting tonight.” I said, “Teresa is sick and Zachary’s been a handful all day long, and I need to go home and take care of them.” And he looked me in the eye and said, “Fine, I’ll pick you up at 5:30.” So that’s how I got to my first dental meeting, and after that I was pretty much hooked.

I worked on committees locally; I went through chairs in component societies, then I was elected editor of the LDA Journal, and served on the constituent board of directors for eight years and then ran for president-elect and won. And I served as LDA president-elect through past president, and stayed out a year or two, and then was elected speaker of the LDA house, which I did for six years. I was a delegate or alternate delegate for many years. The 12th District trustee position came up, and I won that and here I am.

When I became a trustee I had no intention whatsoever of running for ADA president-elect. I thought I’d serve my four years and be done with it. After my sophomore year, I had three or four trustees and a couple of officers ask me if I would run. After much discussion with my family, we decided that might be the right thing to do. It was a wonderful experience: no matter how it would have turned out, I would not have traded that experience for anything because we met so many wonderful people and went to so many great places, and we really had fun.

One insight I gained during that year was that we all have the same problems, but different regions of the country have very different ideas on how to solve those problems. As the president, you have to meet the members and come to a consensus on what you think needs to be done so that we can act as one and not be splintered in our approach.

ADA News: How do you communicate the value of the Association to nonmembers?

Dr. Roberts: We do things that no one else does. We are the only dental group that leads in standards and informatics. We are the group that has a true lobbying capacity for advocacy for dentists. Without standards, we are not a profession. Our science keeps us on the right track with evidence-based dentistry, and we are the only membership group that does that. We are able on a national and international level to lobby for science-based decisions — like keeping amalgam on the market — before regulations or laws affect our members.

We are currently celebrating the 150th anniversary of the ADA Code of Ethics. We have 159,000 dentists who have agreed to abide by the Code, and that sends a very powerful message, especially to patients. There was a study done last year that said four out of five patients would choose an ADA dentist knowing that we abide by a code of ethics. It’s ultimately a very simple code. Do no harm. Put the welfare of patients first. Do good. Be truthful and honest with people.

ADA News: What should members know about current ADA advocacy efforts?

Dr. Roberts: We are out there working hard trying to make sure our members are not regulated to death. This year we’ve got $6 million designated for military for research to help treat and rehabilitate our injured soldiers. We’ve advocated for a $17 million increase for the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. We are working hard again to repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

We helped delay for two years the 2.3 percent medical device tax. Let’s hope it will be like the Red Flag rule and the 1099 rule — it will get delayed until we are exempted from it.

Another success was Section 179 of the IRS tax code that allows businesses to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment and/or software purchased during the tax year. This is good for purchases up to $500,000. So you can write off the expense in the same tax year and not spread it out over 20 years. It saves a ton of money.

ADA News: The ADA has designated money for an innovation fund. What value do you see in becoming a more innovative organization? How will this support the ADA mission of helping members succeed? And what types of innovations do you see on the horizon?

Dr. Roberts: It is one of the most important things we’ve done in a long time. The innovation fund takes new ideas and fast tracks them. It is strictly for member value. The new ADA Credentialing Service, powered by Wonderbox Technologies Enterprise System, came out of our business innovation group. It launched nationally in September after a soft launch in the summer. Dentists enter their license and other information. It is a secure portal. This information will be available by request for a nominal fee to all payers, including insurance companies, federal agencies, hospitals and employers. This will save dentists time and expense by avoiding duplicate credentialing.

ADA News: Third-party payer issues are a hot button among members. What’s new on that front?

Dr. Roberts: ADA President Carol Gomez Summerhays and Executive Director Kathleen O’Loughlin earlier this year sent Delta Dental a letter protesting a proposed disallow policy for procedures performed on the same day.

The thing we’ve worked on for years and will continue to work on until we get it, is the repeal of the part of the McCarran-Ferguson Act that relates to health insurance. All we are asking for in this is a level playing field.

If you remember, several years ago we actually sued one of the insurance companies on behalf of four or five members and won. That made an impact on people. They realized we are willing to do more than just talk.

The Association has also put together a resource page on for dentists on third-party payer issues. It provides easy access to the latest information on third-party issues that affect dentists.

ADA News: Give Kids A Smile will celebrate its 15th anniversary during your tenure as president. What has the initiative achieved? Where is it headed?

Dr. Roberts: I think it’s a wonderful program. We’ve treated over 5 million children in the past 15 years. I was the Board liaison to the GKAS project for three years when I was a trustee. I got to work on a much closer basis than most trustees. We are always looking for innovative ways to make it better. We can’t get stagnant. Like the Missions of Mercy, GKAS is not meant to be a health care system. But it emphasizes prevention, which is the be all and end all. We have been extremely successful with our GKAS corporate sponsors, Henry Schein, Colgate and DEXIS. We couldn’t do it without this type of support.

ADA News: More and more women and minorities continue to pursue dentistry. What can the ADA do to encourage more women and minorities to pursue leadership roles in their communities and organized dentistry?

Dr. Roberts: Women are approximately half of every class. The incoming class this year at LSU is 56 percent female. We need to recruit underrepresented minorities while these students are still in college. We want them to know dentistry is a great career and that they are welcome in the ADA.

Our boardroom looks like my dental school class. In 20 years the Board of Trustees will look like the current dental school class. As I travel from state to state, I would be worried if I didn’t see young, diverse leaders in those states on the local component and constituent level. But I am seeing those leaders. It’s going to take a while, but change is going to get here. I believe from traveling the country and seeing young, diverse leaders coming up that we will be in good shape.

ADA News: Alternative practice models such as dental service organizations and large group practices continue to grow. What is your message to those dentists about the role of the ADA in their practice lives? What is the ADA’s role?

Dr. Roberts: The dental service organizations are as different as daylight and dark. You cannot paint all large group practices with the same brush, because they are similar to many small private practices in one important sense: while the vast majority are very, very good, you do occasionally see some groups and practitioners who do not perform to the standard we expect.

Some dentists just don’t want to be handling the business end of a dental practice, and as long as that dental service organization or large group practice doesn’t dictate treatment planning, I think they ought to be able to do anything that a dentist can hire somebody else to do to support the business end of a practice. These young people working in dental service organizations need the ADA for the same reasons every member needs the ADA. For our advocacy, for our standards, for our science — because those are things that a dental service organization cannot provide them.