In a May 9 letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), the ADA proposed solutions to dental workforce problems that it believes will lead to a broadening of the workforce pipeline, better distribution of the health workforce, and better access to care for patients in areas of the country that need it most.
The letter also requested that the Senate HELP Committee include these solutions in any legislative package addressing health workforce that the committee considers. The letter and the proposed solutions are part of an ongoing ADA oral health workforce advocacy effort.
“We are aware that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) is currently exploring legislative options to address healthcare workforce shortages,” wrote ADA President George R. Shepley, D.D.S. and ADA Executive Director Raymond A. Cohlmia, D.D.S. “Dentists’ proposed solutions include a focus on innovative programs, incentives to practice in underserved areas and addressing student debt for medical and dental students and graduates.”
The ADA leaders asked Congress to reauthorize Action for Dental Health grants for innovative programs through 2028. These grants have provided federal funding for the dental health needs of underserved populations, Drs. Shepley and Cohlmia said, noting that programs supported by the Action for Dental Health “advance the important goal of decreasing dental health disparities in communities where better access to care is most needed.”
The letter also asked that Congress require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to submit a report to Congress on the extent to which Action for Dental Health grants increased access to dental services in designated dental health professional shortage areas.
In addition, the letter called for passage of S 862, the Restoring America’s Health Care Workforce and Readiness Act, a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize and double the funding for National Health Service Corps scholarships and loan repayment programs for dentists and other health care professionals who serve in federally designated shortages areas. NHSC programs would expire in September without reauthorization.
“The burden of paying off student loans for graduate dental education contributes to geographical gaps in availability of dental services and access to oral health care because indebted gradates must seek out less risky and more lucrative opportunities,” the letter said. “The [legislation] would encourage dentists and promising dental students to practice in underserved areas by providing loan repayment and scholarships in exchange for a service commitment.”
The bill would also establish a NHSC Emergency Service demonstration project to improve the nation’s capacity to respond to public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants would be eligible to receive loan repayments of up to 50% of the amount of the highest new award made through the NHSC loan repayment program.
Drs. Shepley and Cohlmia also requested that Congress support legislation that would allow student loan borrowers to modify the interest rate on student loans to the current applicable rate, with that interest rate fixed for the life of the loan unless the borrower elects to modify it again. They also asked Congress to pass S 704, the Resident Education Deferred Interest Act, a bipartisan bill that would allow borrowers to qualify for interest-free deferment on their student loans while serving in a medical or dental internship or residency program.
“The REDI Act prevents physicians and dentists from being penalized during residency by preventing the government from charging interest on loans during a time when physicians and dentists are unable to afford payments on the principal,” they wrote. “The REDI Act does not provide any loan forgiveness or reduce a borrower’s original loan balance … [but] makes opening practices in underserved areas or pursuing an academic or research career in those areas more attractive and affordable to residents.”
Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy efforts at ADA.org/advocacy.