A legislative proposal, which promises to end an ongoing fight between licensed dentists and dental-support providers, has been redrawn to include explicit protections for patients.
The disagreement has been between the Washington State Dental Association and the Association of Dental Support Organizations. WSDA, which represents licensed dentists, worried that nondentists could sneak around state rules that require dental clinics to be owned by licensed practitioners.
Spurred by Republican Sens. Curtis King of Yakima and Ann Rivers of LaCenter, the two professional groups reached agreement in recent days on a law change that addresses both parties’ concerns without jeopardizing patients. Substitute Senate Bill 5322 deserves support by Washington lawmakers.
Rivers had sought to assist dental support groups, which for years have provided dental equipment and other office services to dentists, in expanding dental access through clinics that operate during nontraditional hours.
WSDA contended that Rivers’ proposal, SB 5158, opened the door to corporate dental chains that could not be held to account as strictly as individual dentists. WSDA sought explicit regulations over corporate dental chains which have posed risks to patients in other states by pressuring individual dentists to hurry their procedures.
WSDA executive director Bracken Killpack said in a recent meeting with The Olympian Editorial Board that a 2013 U.S. Senate report detailed these practice models that harmed patients in other states. He said some new practice models in our state prompt similar worry.
SB 5322 incorporates Rivers’ proposals to broaden access and explicitly assure dental support-services companies that they can own and lease space or equipment to clinics. It also makes clear they may provide office support services, but not hire dental-care staff.
On the other side, the bill retains a requirement that clinic owners who hire dental staff to be licensed dentists. This ensures they are directly accountable to state regulators for meeting standards of care. The bill itemizes 10 areas of care that are off-limits for nondentists and provides whistleblower protections to dental-care providers who may be pressured to cut corners.
The proposal also grants broader powers to the state Department of Health’s Dental Quality Assurance Commission.
“Currently, there are a number of bills regarding dental practice under consideration. Our overarching position with all of them is that patient care and safety remain a priority,” commission executive director Trina Crawford said in a statement. “We are open to new and innovative approaches to the health system that protects and improves the health of all people in Washington.”
The dental association has not always taken the side of dental access. It opposed past legislation giving more autonomy to dental assistants, and many dentists today refuse Medicaid patients due to low reimbursements.
But concerns over quality of care appear legitimate.SB 5322 represents a step forward for dental care in this state.