August 21, 2019
Testimony in Support of Senate Bill 89
Julie Grace, Policy Analyst
Chairman Testin and members of the committee, I’m Julie Grace, a policy analyst at the Badger Institute. Thank you for allowing me to testify before you today in support of Senate Bill 89. Dental therapy is an issue that we have researched and written on extensively — and one that we believe would address a pressing problem here in Wisconsin.
No one in this room is proud of the fact that Wisconsin has among the worst access and use rates of dental care for disadvantaged and underserved populations in the U.S., plus disproportionately poor outcomes for disadvantaged populations in our state.
Wisconsin children — more than half a million of them — are negatively impacted by a significant lack of dental access. Untreated decay, cavities and other oral health problems affect the physical and mental health of children, raise economic costs for future treatments and can contribute to lower academic performance — all of which likely affect later economic and societal outcomes.
The elderly, disabled and minorities are also disproportionately impacted by this lack of access to quality dental care.
When we learned of these trends and related statistics, we sought a solution and looked to other states for ideas.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to look far. Minnesota implemented this practice in 2009. They now have about 90 dental therapists practicing in the state. The director for Minnesota’s Board of Dentistry has told us that dental therapists have not taken business from dentists in the state and that the board had not received any complaints of substandard care since dental therapists started practicing there.
Of course, it’s difficult to measure the full impact on quality, cost and access of care in Minnesota just a few years after policy-makers approved this practice, but we’ve already seen the positive impacts. It’s also worth noting that since Minnesota began this practice, other states have followed suit. Dental therapists are allowed to practice in Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont, in tribal communities in Alaska, Idaho and Washington and under a pilot program in Oregon. Many other states are actively considering proposals like we are here today.
We see this bill as a deregulation of occupational licensing requirements for the dental industry. Not only would dental therapists provide Wisconsinites with greater access and choice for care, but it would lower the cost of dental services and reduce the burden placed on taxpayers when people go to hospitals for dental issues.
To us at the Badger Institute, this bill represents a common-sense, free-market and bipartisan solution to a serious and persistent problem. As part of our work on this issue, we’ve sought out national experts, including Dr. Morris Kleiner, AFL-CIO Chair in Labor Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and Jason Hicks, a University of Minnesota Ph.D. candidate whose research focus is on this topic. Kleiner and Hicks co-authored our policy brief on dental therapy and have provided valuable insight to us on this issue, as I’m sure Jason will do here today.