Several Wisconsin legislators, including Sens. Sheila Harsdorf and Tim Carpenter and Reps. Kathy Bernier, Joe Sanfelippo and Evan Goyke, are poised to introduce a bill that will change current law to expand access to preventive oral health care through dental hygienists. The Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) has joined a coalition of hospitals, health systems, dental hygienists, physicians and dentists in supporting this bill, which will fully leverage the skills and services of dental hygienists to enable them to provide care directly, without dentist supervision, in additional care settings including hospitals, medical clinics and nursing homes. This proposal is both a policy recommendation of WHA’s Medicaid Policy Workgroup and one of WHA’s priority agenda items for 2017.
Wisconsin’s Medicaid program has struggled to provide access to essential oral health care for adults and children enrolled in the program. According to the Wisconsin Medicaid program’s most recent access plan from December 2016, data shows the fee-for-service Medicaid population utilizes dental services at a low rate—with only 43 percent of children and 34 percent of adults utilizing dental services.
Safety net providers—including hospitals and low-income clinics—are helping to fill this access gap. WHA Information Center data from 2015 shows that over 33,000 emergency room visits were attributable to preventable dental conditions.
Expanding access to preventive oral health care could help to prevent avoidable hospital emergency department visits. By expanding practice settings for dental hygienists, passage of this legislation will further the important public health goal of expanding access to preventive oral health care for all Wisconsin residents.
The bill is being circulated for co-sponsorship through March 10, and the WHA government relations team expects the Legislature to take quick action on the bill yet this spring.