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ADA lobbies for Indian Health Service funding

February 01, 2017

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — To maintain current oral health care services for American Indians and Alaska Natives, the ADA is requesting Congress grant the Indian Health Service the "highest funding levels possible" in the final Interior Appropriations bill.
Every year the ADA lobbies for IHS dental program funding. In 2016, the House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year 2017 appropriation amount of $186 million for the dental program — about $5.1 million above what the Senate Appropriations Committee approved. The Association is asking the subcomittees to approve the House amount in order for IHS to maintain current oral health care services for American Indians and Alaska Natives, which include funding for community-based oral health prevention programs and improving IHS' electronic dental records system.

In a Jan. 26 letter to House and Senate Interior Appropriation subcommittees, ADA President Gary L. Roberts and Executive Director Kathleen T. O'Loughlin explained how a strong dental workforce is necessary in order to provide oral health care to American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

"The IHS dental program anticipates that there will be over 100 dentist vacancies at IHS year," wrote Drs. Roberts and O'Loughlin. "A reduction in program funding will hamper the agency's ability to fill those positions. Fewer providers will significantly decrease the number of patients who can access dental care."

"Almost 70 percent of Navajo children, the largest federally recognized tribe, have untreated tooth decay," wrote Drs. Roberts and O'Loughlin, citing a 2014 study by the Colorado School of Public Health.
"The ADA realizes that treatment alone will not improve the oral health status of tribal nations," they continued. "Only through integration with community-based oral health prevention programs will we see true returns on IHS investment. We have begun to work with tribal community health representatives who serve as the 'eyes, ears, hands and feet' of health care professionals out in the community, to have a better understanding of the importance of oral health to overall health."

In addition to integrating care, the IHS dental program has spent the better part of a decade working to bring all of its dental programs online with an electronic dental records system.

"It is not uncommon in Indian Country for dental patients to receive care in more than one facility," wrote Drs. Roberts and O'Loughlin. "Maintaining electronic patient records will allow IHS dentists to provide better care regardless of where patients access services. The IHS dental program currently has a contract to finish and complete its electronic dental record system IHS year; but if funding is decreased, that work will be terminated. Negotiating a new contract at a later date will result in higher costs."

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