Washington — The ADA is supporting legislation aimed at improving the health workforce shortage and health disparities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Feb. 25 letter to Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., ADA President Daniel J. Klemmedson, D.D.S., M.D., and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin, D.M.D., thanked the lawmakers for sponsoring S 54, the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act. The bill calls for additional funding for the National Health Service Corps as well as establishing an NHSC Emergency Service demonstration project.
“This historic investment in the NHSC and National Disaster Medical System will restore the pipeline of dentists and other health care providers needed to address existing health workforce shortages and bolster health emergency surge capacity,” Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin wrote.
They added that the ADA is committed to working to expand the availability of NHSC loan repayments and scholarships for dentists who agree to serve in a NHSC-approved site and said expanding these programs would not only address existing health workforce shortages across the country but would also lessen the student debt burden for those dentists who participate in the National Health Service Corps.
“Student debt associated with graduate dental education is a substantial barrier in meeting our nation’s oral health workforce needs,” Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin wrote. “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. Your bill would address these challenges and encourage dentists to practice in underserved areas by providing loan repayments and scholarships in exchange for a service commitment.”
The ADA letter also pointed out that S 54 would provide 40% in set-aside funding for loan repayments and scholarships for members of groups that have been “historically underrepresented in the health professions.”
“This funding will help recruit and retain dentists from underrepresented groups and address disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin noted. “Members of such groups often have an especially strong need for loan repayments and scholarships, and they are also more likely to practice in their own, or similarly underserved, communities.”
The Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act would also establish a demonstration project that would allow members of the NHSC workforce to serve in emergency capacities through the National Disaster Medical System.
“This pilot would expand the country’s emergency preparedness capacity by enabling individuals currently serving in the NHSC, or its alumni, to be available for rapid deployment through the [National Disaster Medical System],” wrote Drs. Klemmedson and O'Loughlin, adding that dentists could be deployed to assist with COVID-19 vaccination efforts and receive supplemental student loan repayment awards.
For more information about the ADA’s advocacy efforts during COVID-19, visit ADA.org/COVID19Advocacy.