In 2008, a bill was signed into law that allowed out-of-state dentists to practice in Florida, but a sunset provision allowed this license to be repealed Jan. 1, 2020.
Dr. Rudy Liddell, president of the Florida Dental Association and a dentist in Brandon, said reinstating the "Health Access Dental License" (SB 1296/HB 1461) will allow out-of-state dentists to practice here in underserved public health settings such as community health centers and county health departments unencumbered by yet another exam.
"We have people that want to practice in Florida and they're willing to practice in a federally qualified health setting to provide dentistry and this gives them a means to do that without sitting for a full licensing exam," Liddell said.
There are 14,000 practicing dentists in Florida, and 30,000 dental team members, but high business costs and staggering student loan debt keep many of them from serving low-income patients.
Florida’s Medicaid program does not typically cover adults for comprehensive and preventive dental benefits and has one of the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the country.
The dental group is also once again opposing a bill that would introduce a new licensed dental provider.
In 2014, the latest numbers available, more than 163,000 Floridians visited the emergency department for a dental-related issue at a cost of more than $234 million.
Dental therapists have been proposed as a way to meet the needs in underserved areas where most patients are on Medicaid. They would have more training than a dental hygienist, but less training than a dentist.
Liddell said the minimum requirements for this provider is a high school diploma and three years additional training.
"And they would be able to do irreversible procedures like extractions, partial root canals, fillings on teeth,” Liddell said.
Supporters of the bill say it would give rural areas with dentist shortages more treatment options.
But Liddell said that in Minnesota – the only state that currently allows dental therapists - they've only had 92 therapists in the field, and 70% of them work in or near the city, “not out in the rural areas of need, like they were designed to.”
A similar bill was proposed during the 2019 legislative session but died in committee.
The Florida Dental Association is also asking for $773,000 from the state budget to fund Florida’s dental student loan repayment program (Florida Statute 381.4019), which will help dentists practice in public health programs and serve low-income patients in designated rural and underserved areas.
“We have the workforce to address the needs of Floridians. We just need to make sure that we get those providers into the correct places where there where there's a need,” Liddell said.
“We don't need 35% of our workforce in the Miami-Dade area when you know, there's a dentist on every street corner. We'd like to get a better distribution of dentists serving the needs of all Floridians.”
The money would also be used for the Donated Dental Services program (Florida Statute 381.40195) to expand its network of volunteer dentists and dental labs to serve patients who are elderly, disabled and/or medically compromised.
Since 1997 more than 1,900 patients have received more than $9 million in care through Florida Donated Dental Services.