Melony Bell files bill to expand dental health care access

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The bill would allow dental therapists to get licensed and work in Florida.

A bill that would allow dental therapists to get licensed and work in Florida now has a House companion.

Fort Meade Republican Rep. Melony Bell filed HB 961 this week. It is identical to a bill (SB 604) filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes last month.

“Residents in my district and across the state are suffering greatly from the limited access to dental care,” she said. “But there’s something we can do about it. Establishing the dental therapy licensure, a model safely and effectively applied in other states across the nation, will increase access and cut overall costs for dental care. It’s a win-win.” 

Dental therapists are a class of oral health care providers who serve under a dentist. Similar to a physician assistant, therapists are highly trained and can perform many procedures typically handled by a dentist. 

Currently, dental therapists are not authorized or licensed to work in Florida.

The proposals would create a licensure process for dental therapists and allow them to work under a dentist’s supervision in certain settings such as schools, early head start programs, senior centers and rural community clinics. It would also authorize therapists to work at private practices that meet certain requirements.

Among the tasks they could perform: administering local anesthesia, taking X-rays, re-cementing crowns, and capping teeth.

Supporters, such as Floridians for Dental Access, say the policy would allow dental practices to serve more people at a more affordable price point. They have cited recent studies showing many Floridians lack access to dental care and that dental care is the No. 1 unmet health care need among Florida children.

Data highlighted by Floridians for Dental Access shows that Florida hospitals billed more than $624 million in 2019 for ER visits and hospital admissions stemming from preventable oral health issues. Florida taxpayers indirectly paid for nearly 40% of preventable visits by way of Medicaid.

Tami Miller, Executive Director of Florida Dental Hygienists’ Association and a member of Floridians for Dental Access, thanked Bell for filing the bill.

“Dental therapists have been safely providing care across the nation for the past 15 years. With this legislation, we can bring dental therapy to Florida, increase access to dental care and lower overall costs,” she said in a news release.

HB 961 is awaiting committee references. SB 604 has been referred to the Health Policy Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and Appropriations Committee. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


One comment

  • James M. Mejuto

    February 19, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    So what does this all mean? Are we gonna get Dental/Eye care
    in the ACA? No! I wonder how much longer? It’s a dis-service to millions of americans who need Dental/Eye care but cannot get beyond ‘basic’ coverage simply because the insurance companies (private for profit) will not allow it.
    Yes, contrary to public knowledge, the insurance companies: Delta, Humana, United Health, Blue Cross, Advent all dictate exactly our coverages for medical care.

    Reply

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