The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted Sept. 21 to pass the Bipartisan Primary Care and Health Workforce Act, which would ensure that various workforce programs continue, including many for oral health.
Introduced by Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., the bill passed in a 14-7 vote. Every Democrat and three Republicans – Sens. Marshall, Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, – supported the measure.
“The time is long overdue where we begin to deal with the crisis facing American health care, a need for major reform in health care workforce, and primary care,” Sen. Sanders said during the hearing. “It is my every intention to make sure that becomes law.”
The bill would reauthorize several of the ADA’s top priorities such as workforce grants directed toward dental programs; the National Health Service Corps’ scholarships and loan repayment programs, which run out Sept. 30; the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program, which helps train dentists in rural communities; and community health centers, which provide quality oral health care to underserved populations.
Dan Gesek, Jr., D.M.D., chair of the ADA Council on Government Affairs, said that the dental workforce shortage is among the main issues currently facing the industry. The new legislation, he added, would help alleviate the strain.
“This particular bill definitely helps with workforce, training programs and also some allied health programs,” he said. “This is not only something that’s going to help us as dentists, but it’s going to help our patients, and those patients that can’t get care on an everyday basis will be able to get care.”
But Dr. Gesek also noted that while the bill’s passage in the HELP Committee marks significant progress, next steps are crucial. As part of a grassroots campaign, the ADA sent out an Action Alert Sept. 19 urging members with a senator on the HELP Committee to ask them to support the bill.
“We’re going to continue to [contact] our congressmen and our senators, and we’re going to show them how important dentistry is and what we care about, which is taking care of our patients,” Dr. Gesek said. “That’s really what it’s all about. Hopefully, at the end of the day, some of our issues will get passed and we’ll be able to see some fruit from our labors.”
Follow all the ADA’s advocacy efforts on workforce at ADA.org/advocacy/advocacy-issues/workforce.