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Dentists, dental students advocate together in Washington

March 28, 2017

By Jennifer Garvin

Making history: Hundreds gather for the March 26-28 ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day in Washington. This was the first time dentists and students joined together to advocate for the dental profession.
Washington  —  The theme was One Voice United, and that's just what they did: unite.

For the first time, the American Dental Association combined its annual advocacy conference with the American Student Dental Association's annual effort. The joint event in the nation's capital — the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day (formerly ADA Washington Leadership Conference) — hosted some 1,000 dentists, dental students, state association staff and other dental leaders.
The March 26-28 effort is expected to rank as the largest and most successful advocacy event for any health care association in 2017, organizers said.

"Today, we gather because we share a singular goal: To advocate for our profession and our patients. Today, we all belong to the same political party: the tooth party," said Dr. Gary L. Roberts, ADA president.

Over the three-day period, ADA and ASDA members learned from each other. The seasoned dentists learned what it means to be a dental student in an era where the average debt per graduating senior is $262,000. And dental students took a break from coursework to see a glimpse of what impact new and existing legislation could have on their future careers.

"We always have to realize that the younger dentists, particularly the dental students, are the future of our profession. By including them in this venture, we're able to put them in front of the legislators so they can explain to them what's on their mind," said Dr. Richard Andolina, chair, American Dental Political Action Committee.

"We have been working over a year on this meeting and it is fantastic to see it come to fruition," added Dr. Mark Bronson, chair, ADA Council on Government Affairs.  

The opening session, "How to Meet with Your Member of Congress," provided tips for dentists and dental students on how to get the most out of their office visits. The session, which featured a role-playing exercise demonstrating a typical visit to a congressional office, was facilitated by Dr. Charlie McGinty, a former ADPAC chair, Dr. Justin Norbo of the ADA New Dentist Committee, and Sara Golkari, a member of ASDA's Council on Advocacy.

Welcome: "Today, we gather because we share a singular goal: To advocate for our profession and our patients," said Dr. Gary L. Roberts, ADA president.
During the "Issues Review" session, attendees wondered if they needed to talk about health care reform, since the American Health Care Act — the proposed bill to replace the Affordable Care Act — didn't garner enough votes March 24 to pass the House.

"This isn't going away," said Dr. Frank Graham, CGA vice chair. "We need to make the [legislators] aware of how important oral health is to overall health."

Many wondered about when the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act would reach the Senate. The legislation, which amends the antitrust exemption of the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act, was overwhelmingly passed March 22 by the House.

"The timing of this meeting couldn't be better," said Michael Graham, ADA senior vice president, government and public affairs. "Having you here will help us move this in the Senate."

As expected, the discussions surrounding student loan debate fired up a number of participants. Are loan repayment programs the answer? Is expanding refinancing opportunities the solution? Something has to change, the students implored.

"This is a big issue. The debt keeps climbing," said Abby Halpern, chair, ASDA advocacy, who urged her fellow students to tell their stories to Congress.

"Make sure to impart how this will affect the representative's or senator's home state," added Dr. Bruce Hutchison, a former ADPAC chair who helped organize this year's conference.

During lunch break, dentists and students met with their respective state delegations and worked on their presentations for the next day's visits to Capitol Hill to meet with their respective legislators.

"I have learned so much from the dentists that I met in a short period of time and made connections across multiple states," said Emily Funk, a second-year student at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. "Lobby Day also really helps us to understand the power we have as a profession and it has been very exciting to see dentists come together from all over the country and make an impact at the national level."

During his talk on the 115th Congress, Nathan Gonzalez, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, a publication which provides nonpartisan analysis of campaigns for House, Senate, governor, and president, said it would be "disingenuous" for him to claim he knows "what's going to happen."

Instead, he offered this: "I think you'll find an open ear. As constituents, as business people in their districts, they want to hear from people like you as they look ahead to the next election."
The conference's keynote speakers were Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, and Fred Barnes, cofounder and executive director of The Weekly Standard. Dr. Andolina moderated the event, which featured a point-counterpoint style of hot topics and issues in Washington, with Mr. Robinson taking the liberal point of view and Mr. Barnes taking the conservative.

While usually on opposite sides of the spectrum in their political columns, the journalists were in agreement that the conversations in Washington these days always come down to one person: President Donald Trump.

"I liken Trump to a very good basketball player who's always in foul trouble," said Mr. Barnes.

"It's a hostile takeover," quipped Mr. Robinson.

Tooth party: Students from the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Dentistry have fun during a social media break. From left are students Delvin Daison, Noreen Ali, Belen Diaz, Alex Johnson and Muhammad Minhal. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mark Bauman
The two panelists took about 10 minutes apiece to share their views on the current administration. They also addressed fake news and health care.

"It's just as easy to click on the Washington Post as it is to click on fake news," Mr. Robinson said. Also: Never read the comments.

The conference also provided an opportunity for ADA and ASDA members to engage with the ADA's Washington staff on issues related to federal and legislative policy. The three-day conference concluded on March 28 with the attendees' visits to Congress.

Look for expanded coverage of the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day in the April 17 ADA News.