Dentists Ask Lawmakers To Fund Outreach Programs

Feb 5, 2015

Florida dentists are asking lawmakers to fund programs they say will get more dentists to see low-income patients in rural and underserved areas.

The Florida Dental Associations wish list includes two main proposals. One is relatively simple. The other, is a little more complex. The first part of the associations plan is to restore a program that provides financial support to dentists to treat patients in underserved areas.

“It could be used for dentists to pay their student loans, purchase property or dental equipment in an underserved area," says Dr. Joanne Paramore, a Panama City dentist who also serves as the secretary for the FDA.

But just because an area has too few dentists, does not mean that the state is hurting for dentists overall. In fact, Florida has plenty of dentists—they’re just congregated in the wrong places—too many in big cities, too few in rural areas. Adding to the problems is the fact that for many people—dental care is unattainable. That’s especially true for children, Paramore says. It’s compounded if those kids rely on the state’s Medicaid program, which was recently turned over to private insurance companies.

“Unfortunately, many of the dentists who have been a part of the old system have chosen not to participate in Medicaid Managed Care. So it’s actually been a negative.”

The FDA was a guest on WFSU’s Perspectives Program. Medicaid is available for low-income Floridians—mainly women and children, disabled people and medically fragile patients. The big Bend has lots of people who fit those descriptions. The association’s more complex request to lawmakers, involves trying to connect dentists to hose patients. Joe Anne Hart is a lobbyist for the FDA.

“One of our dentists was here in town yesterday who provided free care to an individual that had 11 strokes, lost her husband and lost her job," Hart says. "There was no way for her to get the care she needed, and through this program she received over $4,ooo worth of free comprehensive care to restore her oral health.”

Getting its agenda through the Florida legislature will be a heavy task. But there’s an upshot. Lawmakers have proposed similar programs for other groups, like nurses, and public defenders, areas where there is a greater need than supply. WFSU News, I’m Lynn Hatter.