Bills of Note: Dental Therapists

The Senate Committee on Health & Human Services this week held a public hearing on a bill that would create a new license in Wisconsin for dental therapists, an intermediate level of dentistry practice between hygienists and dentists. The bipartisan bill has received wide support from a coalition of 62 stakeholder groups but is opposed by the Wisconsin Dental Association.

Under the bill (SB 89), dental therapists licensed under the Dental Examining Board would perform certain services under the general supervision of a dentist with 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, the bill’s authors, Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Sen. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend), highlighted how the bill will increase access to dental care for patients in shortage areas across the state. Furthermore, licensing dental therapists would reduce costs for both patients and the state’s Medicaid program.

Also testifying in support of the bill was Pew Charitable Trusts, who discussed other states’ (including neighboring states Michigan and Minnesota) successes in reducing emergency room visits, decreasing costs, and improving access to dental care for Medicaid patients by licensing dental therapists. Other supporters of the bill include Delta Dental, the Alliance of Health Insurers, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Opposition to the bill came largely from the Wisconsin Dental Association. Marquette University School of Dentistry and the Academy of General Dentistry are also opposing the bill. Opponents argue the bill does not address low Medicaid reimbursement rates for dentistry in the state.

The bill has not yet received a hearing in the Assembly.

Gov. Tony Evers also included dental therapist licensing in his proposed budget’s dental plan, but the Joint Finance Committee removed the provisions as non-fiscal policy in its first executive session of the budget process.

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

Read more coverage on the dental therapy hearing from MacIver Institute.