In light of the 2016 election cycle, politics have been on the forefront of conversations across the nation. From local to state and national issues, voters were faced with many decisions that will have lasting impacts on day-to-day life and the future of our economy, healthcare, and education. With such a dizzying array of topics, on top of a burdensome course load, dental students have continually demonstrated a fervor for engagement in advocacy. Fortunately, advocacy doesn’t occur only once every four years, and diligence has proven a strong virtue for those dental students who have committed themselves to the many issues impacting us.
In order to practice in any state America, a dentist must pass the licensure standards within that state. Along with granting licenses to dentists, the states also hold the power to control the budget and regulate insurance coverage. Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the end of 2012, many states have undergone systematic changes in the structures of eligibility and reimbursement for people on public insurance. This expansion in coverage has served to increase access to care for many who had not previously had their dental needs met. There are current initiatives to further study the existing barriers to care that surround dental care. One area currently being explored is the idea to increase the scope of dental practitioners to allow a so-called “mid-level provider” in various New England states. This has been a contentious issue involving many interested parties at the local, national, and state level.
A significant obstacle in serving all populations and demographics can often be traced back to reimbursement for the services rendered by the dentist. The costs and demands to become a licensed dentist in America are some of the greatest of any profession. Aside from the clinical and didactic requirements, the expensive price of education has far-reaching implications deep into the career path of a dentist. Dental students have advocated for reimbursement programs that would lessen this burden.
One program the ADA and ASDA have supported is an initiative that helps students refinance their federal loans into fixed and variable re-payment schedules with private companies such as the Darien Rowayton Bank. With an economy that has been recovering since the 2008 recession, private companies have become more attracted to the business of buying dental student debt and thereby helping students refinance. For example, one company named SoFi is now recognizing the unique benefit of a less than 1% rate of default on dental student loans, and they’re helping many students get better rates. Due to the staggering rise in dental student debt, especially those enrolled in private schools without the support of federal service contracts, significant attention has been given to this issue at the state and national level.
As previously discussed, there are a number of issues that these election results will impact regarding how federal and state funds will be appropriated to education and health care. Dentists play an important role in delivery of health care and in the economy. Students and practitioners are reliable lenders to the federal government, and we support the economy by creating jobs and improving the overall health of the population. Through personal advocacy experience, legislators look and listen to the profession of dentistry, especially students, on how to make informed decisions regarding the future of the profession.
Please don’t lose sight of this request: as often as you can throughout the year, remember to study hard for clinical and didactic training, but also engage and advocate on behalf of your future profession. Democracy in action occurs more often than voting once every two or four years. It happens when you write your legislators, when you donate to a cause you believe in, and when you advocate on behalf of yourself and those we serve. One way fantastic way to advocate is to sign offline and go let your voice be heard, because your voice matters.
Alec S. Eidelman
American Student Dental Association District 1 Advocacy Chair