Assembly Committee Hearing on Dental Therapy Legislation

The Assembly Committee on Medicaid Reform & Oversight held a public hearing on Dec. 18 on a bill that would newly allow dental therapists, an intermediate level of dentistry practice between hygienists and dentists, to practice in Wisconsin. The bipartisan bill has received wide support from a coalition of over 60 stakeholder groups but is opposed by the Wisconsin Dental Association.

Under the bill (AB 81), dental therapists licensed under the Dental Examining Board would perform certain services under the general supervision of a dentist and pursuant to a collaborative management agreement. The dentist need not be present for the dental therapist to practice. A single dentist may have collaborative agreements with no more than five dental therapists at a time.

At the hearing, author Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) emphasized the increase access to care these mid-level dental providers could bring for both private-pay patients and the state Medicaid program, particularly in parts of Wisconsin suffering from a relative shortage of dentists. Felzkowksi also highlighted how the bill could lower the cost of dental care in Wisconsin

Supporters of the bill include the Alliance of Health Insurers, Americans for Prosperity, Ascension, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Delta Dental, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Pew Charitable Trusts, Wisconsin Association of Health Plans, Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Dental Hygienists Association, Wisconsin Hospital Association, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

Opposition to the bill came largely from the Wisconsin Dental Association (WDA). Marquette University’s School of Dentistry also opposed the bill. Opponents had concerns about the level of training of dental therapists. WDA advocated that higher reimbursement rates for dentists and loan assistance programs would be more effective in addressing rural access to dentistry.

The Senate Committee on Health & Human Services held a hearing on the bill in August.

Last session, dental therapist legislation received a public hearing in the Senate and Assembly but failed to pass.