Washington — The ADA is supporting new legislation aimed at improving the health workforce shortage and health disparities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an Aug. 28 letter to Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., ADA President Chad P. Gehani and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin praised the lawmakers for introducing S 4055, the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act, saying “this historic investment” in the National Health Service Corps and National Disaster Medical System will help bolster health emergency surge capacity and “restore the pipeline of dentists” and other health care providers needed to tackle existing health workforce shortages.
They told the senators that the ADA is committed to helping expand the availability of National Health Service Corps scholarships and loan repayments for dentists who agree to work in NHSC-approved sites.
“Expansion of these NHSC programs would not only address existing health workforce shortages throughout the country, but would also tackle the issue of student loan indebtedness,” said Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin. “Student debt associated with graduate dental education is a substantial barrier in meeting our nation’s oral health workforce needs. The burden of paying off student loans, which can average more than $200,000, has driven dentists toward higher-paying specialties and communities, leaving many areas with gaps in availability of dental services and access to oral health care.”
Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin said that the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act would address these challenges and encourage dentists and promising dental students to practice in underserved areas by providing loan repayment and scholarships in exchange for a service commitment. It would also give priority to individuals who continue to practice, even after their fulfillment of obligated service, and provide increased funding amounts based upon the site where the dentist completed their NHSC contractual duties.
Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin also pointed out that COVID-19 has “magnified the alarming racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes, which is a manifestation of our nation’s health workforce shortages in underserved urban and rural communities.”
“These inequities could be addressed by expanding the representation of minority populations in health careers,” they said. “The bill’s inclusion of the [40%] in set-aside funding for racial and ethnic minorities and students from low-income urban and rural areas will address existing inequalities and reduce disparities and barriers to entry into the dental profession.”
The ADA concluded the letter by noting that the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act would also create a new Emergency Service partnership between the National Health Service Corps and National Disaster Medical System to boost America’s health care surge capacity in response to public health emergencies.
“Dentists serving in the National Health Service Corps or alumni who continue to practice in a health professional shortage area could concurrently serve in the National Disaster Medical System and be available for rapid deployment for health emergencies, while receiving supplemental loan repayment awards to address their student debt,” Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin said. “For years, the ADA has advocated for national emergency preparedness solutions through research, public policy and legislation, and the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act would help with these efforts.”
For more information about the ADA’s advocacy efforts during COVID-19, visit ADA.org/COVID19Advocacy.