Kan. dental association to launch loan repayment program

2009 12 11 14 00 01 405 Second Opinion

Kansas, like many other states with a significant rural population, faces challenges regarding access-to-care issues. But working in partnership with the Delta Dental of Kansas Foundation, the Kansas Dental Association has made great strides in better understanding the issues and is preparing to launch a loan repayment program that will target those areas that remain underserved.

The first step was to understand the scope of the dental access issue. Using data developed by the Kansas Bureau of Oral Health, we analyzed how dentists are distributed across the state. We found that most of Kansas is well covered by dentists, except for four areas in which Kansans are not within 20 miles of a dental office.

We then developed a program that is aimed at attracting dentists to these locations. Working with communities in these areas, the Kansas Initiative for New Dentists (KIND) program will provide funding for loan forgiveness to be awarded each year to new dentists who locate to these regions. The Delta Dental Foundation has pledged significant funding for each of the next three years to support this private loan forgiveness initiative. Depending on the level of funding awarded, recipients will be required to make either a three- or four-year service agreement.

Mirroring a successful effort in Iowa, the Kansas initiative offers our state a proven program to help dentists locate to those areas. In addition to providing financial support for the students, the KIND program will work with local communities to determine other kinds of support that might be available to make the recruitment successful.

Other initiatives

Many Kansas communities have developed successful tools to attract a strong workforce. Recently, Gov. Sam Brownback enacted a Rural Opportunity Zone program that partners with low-population Kansas counties to offer state and local incentives to lure citizens to these areas. Once certain criteria are met, new and returning citizens are offered repayment of student loans and no income tax liability for several years.

While still very new, the program has already been successful in attracting many health professionals and others to rural parts of our state. This initiative, along with the new KIND program, offers strategic tools to those isolated areas truly in need of more dentists.

Kansas citizens, regardless of where they live, deserve to have access to dentists and other health professionals. That is a high priority for Kansas dentists. While some have suggested that a program for nondental providers be developed to respond to dental care needs, this concept has been crafted without any input from dentists or other dental experts, and raises more questions and concerns than real solutions.

We have taken a comprehensive approach to eliminating barriers to dental care. In addition to the KIND program we're launching this year, we are working to increase the number of dentists who see Medicaid patients, expand services that dental hygienists perform in schools and other community settings, and expand our state's Medicaid program to cover adults.

As doctors of oral health, Kansas dentists are on the front lines of public health in our state. We take seriously our obligation to meet the oral health needs of our citizens and recognize the fact that a full range of solutions -- rather than any single approach -- will be of most benefit to Kansans.

Kevin Robertson is executive director of the Kansas Dental Association.

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