Failure of dental hygienist bill shows harm for Georgia children

Primary care doctors are always on the forefront of medical care for children, but when it comes to dental health, hundreds of thousands of Georgia children don’t have access.

A researcher at Georgia Tech recently reported that Georgia is dropping the ball on dental health. More than 500,000 children in the state don’t have adequate insurance to allow them to routinely see dentists. The children often fall under Medicaid and PeachCare loopholes and their parents don’t otherwise have insurance.

The report released by Georgia Tech also said that over 600,000 children have to travel more than 30 miles in an urban area or more than 45 miles in a rural area to reach a dentist.

Worse, a bill before the legislature during the last session failed because legislators did not want to allow dental hygienists to perform an increased number duties originally performed by dentists – a measure that would save providers and patients considerable cash.

GeorgiaHealthNews reports:

The bill would have allowed hygienists to clean teeth in safety-net clinics, nursing homes, federally qualified health centers and school-based health clinics without a dentist present — if the work had been authorized by a dentist. Currently, Georgia law requires that a dentist actually be present in the facility for a hygienist to do such work.

Hygenists are already allowed to clean teeth without having a dentist present.

The report was presented to a General Assembly Health and Human Services Committee for the House. The version of the bill that died during the 2016 session did have the support of the Georgia Dental Association, a dentist lobbying group.

Chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee Sharon Cooper says that dentists often refuse to accept Medicaid because they aren’t reimbursed enough, and the solution to to provide additional funds.

Georgia is 49th in the nation for dental access with just 4.4 dentists per 100,000 residents.

The hygienist bill is expected to be proposed again in 2017.


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