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Michigan law provides civil immunity to retired dentists who provide charitable care

Michigan law provides civil immunity to retired dentists who provide charitable care
Dr. Verhagen

Lansing, Mich.—Retired dentists in Michigan have even more incentive to provide charity care for underserved patients in their communities.

In June, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a Michigan Dental Association-supported House Bill 4389 that provides civil immunity to retired dentists who provide care to the underserved. Now they may do so without the fear of being sued, as long as they possess a voluntary license issued by the Bureau of Health Professionals and services are offered for free.

“It’s positive from all fronts,” said Dr. Connie Verhagen, MDA president.

“Patients receive necessary dental treatments that impact their overall health. Public health clinics and federally qualified health centers get to treat more patients and keep costs down because dentists volunteer to provide this care. And dentists get civil immunity,” said Dr. Verhagen. “For the state, it’s a win, too. You have patients getting oral health treatments that can only increase their overall health and keep them out of emergency rooms.”

A growing number of states are giving their dental boards the authority to license volunteer dentists (who are generally retired dentists) who agree to donate their services to underserved populations, according to the ADA Department of State Government Affairs. About 39 states do so, though some allow only their own previously licensed dentists to qualify while others grant such licenses to dentists who are licensed in any jurisdiction in the U.S.

The Michigan legislature’s move is a step in the right direction, said Dr. John Greig, a dentist from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who retired from practice in 2007 after a 45-year career. Several days a week, Dr. Greig volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Dental Clinic and Order of Malta Medical and Dental Clinic of St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Detroit and the Burnstein Community Health Clinic in Pontiac, Mich.

“I was in the process of selling my practice and asked myself, why am I retiring? I can still do this,” said Dr. Greig. “When I finally retired, my friend talked to me about doing volunteer work. It’s enjoyable and patients are so appreciative of what you do for them. It gives you good feeling when you’re done at the end of the day.”

At the clinics where he works, “There is no lack of patients,” he said.

“We give our time and a certain amount of our own expenses to do this type of work,” said Dr. Greig, who would like to see changes in CE requirements for retired dentists as well. “The care is needed now. That should be addressed so we can keep these workers doing work.”

A 2006 state law extended the same protections to physicians. Dentists and podiatrists were given a voluntary license at that time, but the state senate stripped out the civil immunity part.

“As some feared, it has been difficult for these clinics to recruit the numbers of retired podiatrists and dentists without the umbrella of protection that civil immunity would give,” reads HB 4389. “Since podiatrists and dentists provide necessary medical and dental care for conditions that can impact an individual’s overall health, it is prudent to extend civil immunity to both professions.”

MDA supported civil immunity for retired dentists at the urging of its members, said Bill Sullivan, MDA director of legislative and insurance affairs.

“We had inquiries from retired dentists who wanted to come back in and contribute so they could help deal with access problems. One question we were asked is, ‘Do I need insurance?’ ” said Mr. Sullivan. “It didn’t seem fair to have them doing charity work for underprivileged patients while having to pay for insurance.”