Important legislation to help meet the oral health needs of kids and families took a major step forward this year in Washington.
Senate Bill 6126, legislation to improve dental access in our state, passed out of the Senate Health & Long-Term Care Committee with the support of committee Chair Sen. Karen Keiser, and lead sponsor, Sen. David Frockt, and early backing from Rep. Eileen Cody. The bill made marked strides, but did not pass the Rules Committee by the February 14th cut-off this legislative session.
The remarkable progress of this issue is the product of a diverse and growing campaign. The Washington Dental Access Campaign will continue the momentum to create a mid-level provider as a way to modernize our state’s oral health workforce and improve access to routine dental care.
A highlight of this legislative session came in late January, when a broad range of supporters — including practicing dentists, community-based health care groups, tribal organizations, and consumers — braved an epic snowstorm to testify in favor of SB 6126 in Olympia.
Dr. Ray Dailey, dental chief for the Swinomish/Upper Skagit Dental Clinic, and Dr. Alex Narvaez, the dental director of Sea Mar Community Health Centers, told legislators how this mid-level provider model would help them safely extend high-quality dental care to meet high demand, and curb dental-related emergency room visits.
“This bill will benefit thousands of people,” Dr. Narvaez told senators during the Jan. 19th hearing. Dr. Dailey attested: “At least half of the procedures I do could be done by a licensed dental practitioner. This bill will save patients from getting their dental care in the emergency room.”
Oral health experts from Alaska also came to share their successes in employing mid-level dental providers to increase access to care. As one of the first mid-level dental providers practicing in the U.S., Stephanie Woods, shared how she works with her supervising dentist to extend care in her local community.
Washingtonians with little access to routine and affordable dental care also shared their stories with legislators in support of the bill, including Helen, a senior from Tacoma, who testified about her lifelong struggle to get dental care. After decades of worsening toothache, she was able to get her first dental cleaning at age 50. “I would like to see my children and grandchildren have the preventive care they need, so that they won’t have to live through the hell I lived through,” she told legislators.
Throughout this legislative session, hundreds of Washingtonians who are going without access to dental care shared numerous accounts of pain and suffering: A child in Grays Harbor County suffered weeks with an abscessed tooth, while a Thurston County senior with disabilities can’t get a cavity filled. These and other accounts will continue to present a compelling reason for our state policymakers to respond with effective policy solutions.
The Washington Dental Access Campaign, convened by the Children’s Alliance, includes the American Indian Health Commission of Washington, Washington Community Action Network, and the Washington State Dental Hygienists’ Association. Additional voices joining the chorus for improved access to dental care are AARP Washington, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, and the Washington State Hospital Association.
While more supporters across the state join the movement for an innovative, community-based solution, the Washington State Dental Association remains the lone voice opposed.
The Washington Dental Access Campaign will continue working steadfastly through the spring, summer, and fall and bring even more momentum and support to the 2013 legislature.