Dental hygienists’ bill could make clean sweep this year

[private]Bills that would allow dental hygienists to provide teeth cleaning services at public health clinics, schools, senior centers, and other safety-net locations without the requirement of having a dentist present are progressing through both the House and Senate this year.

Unlike similar legislation that has stalled in past sessions due to opposition by dentists and their lobbyists, these bills have a chance of actually making it to final passage.

By allowing hygienists to perform their duties without the requirement of “direct supervision” by dentists, supporters say the bills would make preventive services more accessible to people living in rural areas and to low-income families that can’t afford full-fledged dental visits. That in turn could help reduce the incidence of tooth decay and gum disease.

“There are an awful lot of children in our state who need preventive dental care,” said Polly McKinney of Voices for Georgia’s Children.

Two similarly worded bills are currently pending in both chambers.

HB 154 has already been favorably reported out by the House Health and Human Services Committee and is closer to a floor vote.

SB 12 has been introduced in the Senate but hasn’t come up for a committee vote yet.

Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), a dentist, is one of the co-sponsors of HB 154.

“I think this year’s bill is much better,” Hawkins said. “I hear from my professional colleagues, and there are those who support and those who believe that the dental team is the best approach.”

“All in all, if it helps more children access dental care, then we have done a good day’s work,” Hawkins said. “After all, we do it for our patients.”

Georgia is one of three states, along with Alabama and Mississippi, that still requires hygienists to be directly supervised by a dentist.

Bill to expand autism coverage

Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), the primary sponsor of the dental hygienist bill in the Senate, will also introduce a bill that proposes to raise the mandatory age limit for insurance coverage of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) from six to 21 years.

SB 118 has been dropped in the Senate hopper but won’t receive a first reading until Tuesday.

Unterman is a longtime advocate of autism coverage and had the support of her Senate colleagues in passing the initial bill requiring autism coverage up to age six. That bill was a harder sell in the House, which fought with the Senate for two years before finally agreeing to autism coverage.

The current bill to expand autism coverage could face a similar legislative battle.

© 2017 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: autism coverage , dental hygienists , Lee Hawkins , Renee Unterman