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Praise, Disappointment Meet Evers' Dental Access Plan

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers' plan to improve access to dental care drew mixed reactions from dentists. (drshohmelian/Pixabay)
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers' plan to improve access to dental care drew mixed reactions from dentists. (drshohmelian/Pixabay)
February 13, 2019

MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Tony Evers' plan to spend more than $43 million to expand access to dental care in Wisconsin, particularly in underserved rural areas, is being met with both praise and disappointment from the state's leading voice for dentistry.

The Wisconsin Dental Association, which represents about 3,500 dentists, said it was caught off guard by Evers' Tuesday announcement. The group praised his aim, but said it wasn't consulted.

Dr. Patrick Tepe, a Verona dentist and the association's president, said one concern is the governor's call for creating a mid-level position, known as a dental therapist, to address a shortage of dentists. Tepe said that concept already was tested.

"Minnesota has had dental therapists for 10 years," he said. "They have approximately 90 of these folks working in Minnesota, and it has not increased their access to care. In fact, their numbers have gone down."

In a statement, Evers said, "Increasing dental access across our state requires a comprehensive approach." The proposal also includes more than $16 million to increase reimbursement rates for dental providers who see patients on Medicaid.

It's estimated that more than 200 dentists are needed across the state. However, Tepe said he believes creating "dental therapist licensure" will take away resources from programs with a proven record of increasing access to care. He cited the experience of neighboring Minnesota.

"They're not looking at expanding these types of providers," he said. "They've come to recognize that the only thing that's going to make the difference is increasing the Medicaid rates, and that's what Minnesota is looking to do. That's what Wisconsin needs to look to do."

The Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association applauded the governors plan. Dental therapists are licensed professionals with skills between those of a dentist and a dental hygienist.

Evers also is allocating $60,000 each of the next two years to expand a loan repayment program for dentists who opt to serve rural areas.

The proposal is online at wispolitics.com.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - WI