Written by: Turner Schmidt
Turner is a D2 who recently traveled to Washington D.C. for ADA’s Dentist and Student Lobby Day. Continue reading below to gain some insight from his trip and the issues presented this year!
A group of students, including myself, attended the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day in Washington D.C. last week. These 8 students, along with more than 1,100 other dentists and dental students represented the 24,000 dental students across the country. We informed our representatives about student loan refinancing, the Higher Education Act, and other policies that will affect the dental profession. But, more importantly we came together and lobbied on behalf of our patients, those who we commit to treating every day as health care providers. As future dentists, it is our job to maintain the dental community’s political connections and commitment to the legislative process so that we can best treat those in our communities. I hope to provide insight into organized dentistry, share what I learned on the trip, and hopefully motivate you to get involved!
After getting a chance to explore Washington, it was time to get to work.
The conference officially began on Monday morning with a formal issue review. A group of high-ranking ADA dentists and the ASDA Speaker of the House addressed each of the five issues that were the focus of this year’s lobbying efforts. During the week we were also addressed by political correspondents, former senators, reporters, and Assistant Surgeon General and Chief Dental Officer Rear Admiral Timothy Ricks, DMD, MPH.
After understanding the issues in which we were going to be discussing, it was time to organize our ideas and form a plan to maximize the impact of our visit with each member of Congress. Being from Wisconsin, we worked diligently with the WDA, WDA dentists, and students that are from Wisconsin, but attend other dental schools. We made sure that we were represented well at each of the legislator’s offices and that each dentist and student had their talking points memorized. The meetings are short, so we had to use every second wisely. We entered the meetings with specific goals, or “asks” of which we hoped the representative will take action.
Student Loan Refinancing Act was introduced to the House of Representatives by Wisconsin’s own Rep. Mark Pocan and Rep. Glenn Grothmann. This bipartisan legislation would allow individuals to refinance federal loans to get lower rates if available. This refinancing could occur at any time during the life of the federal loan.
Resident Education Deferred Interest Act is a bipartisan bill that would allow resident’s loans to be interest free while they gain additional training. The average resident would defer more than $18,000 per year!
The Higher Education Act expired in 2013 and Congress has not yet reauthorized the act. This act has been rewritten 8 times since its 1965 creation, and addresses cost, loan programs, accreditation, and oversight. We were most focused on reinstating the eligibility of professional students to use direct subsidized, which are currently only available to undergraduates and do not accrue interest until the student graduates. Additionally, we lobbied to lower the administrative fees (can be up to 4.5%), lower interest rates, remove barriers for loan forgiveness and include those with private loans to be eligible for loan repayment plans through health services.
Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act (ELSA) is sponsored by Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin and aims to require all private group and individual health plans to cover medically necessary services resulting from congenital anomalies or birth defects. One in every 33 children in the US requires this medical and dental treatment that is functional in nature and is critical to the physical and emotional health of the developing child. Insurances are mostly regulated by the state, but this legislation would protect patients with anomalies, such as cleft palate. It is common for these patients to require considerable follow-up care and corrective procedures. Currently, insurance companies can consider these required medical services to be cosmetic and will deny coverage to these patients.
McCarran-Ferguson Repeal for Health Insurance is a bill that works to eliminate the anti-trust exemption that health insurance companies take advantage of to limit competition. This will introduce competition leading to more insurance options and better access to care for patients across the United States. This legislation passed convincingly in the House last year, but little progress was made in the Senate.
This was my first ASDA trip, and I cannot thank them, the ADA, WDA, WDA Dentists and the others on the trip for such a rewarding and productive lobbying effort in Washington D.C.
Congress is going to make decisions that affect our patients and our practices. It's a certainty. We have a choice: we can either sit on the sidelines or we can get involved and help shape the outcome. I encourage you to do like we did and get engaged in the legislative process that dictates the direction of our entire profession.
Did you know?
There are 5 dentists in the House of Representatives! One of them is a member of the democratic party and the rest are republican. We were fortunate to hear from 2 of these representatives during our conference!