Dental bills stalled by SCHIP

As Congress concentrates on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), other dental legislation has been shoved off the priority list, according to William Prentice, who directs the Washington office of the American Dental Association (ADA).

"Unfortunately, the attention of Congress is limited, and it's focused on SCHIP," he told

The good news is that any bill to reauthorize SCHIP will likely include mandatory dental coverage, Prentice says. In its current version, SCHIP provides medical insurance to about 10 million children whose families can't afford it on their own but are too "wealthy" to be eligible for Medicaid. States have the choice whether to use the money for dental care.

After Congress failed to override President George W. Bush's veto of a previous reauthorization, both houses of Congress went back to work. The House of Representatives has now passed a very similar bill, by a margin too small to make an override of a presidential veto likely. Senate Democrats are working on more substantial changes in hopes of adding enough Republican votes to override a veto.

With the energy of healthcare committees devoted to this work, progress on other legislation of importance to dentists has slowed. What's being held up?

Both the ADA and the Academy of General Dentistry are lobbying Congress to pour more money into the Primary Care and Dentistry Component of the Title VII Health Professions Programs. These programs provide grants for the education of health dental care professionals.

Both organizations are also supporting two bills -- Deamonte's Law and the Children's Dental Health Improvement Act -- that call for improved dental care for children in poor communities.

Although some of the provisions in these bills overlap, Prentice said his group was backing them on the theory that where one fails another might succeed.

Finally, the two organizations will push for the passage of "Meth Mouth" bills to educate school children about the oral health risks of methamphetamines, and set up correctional dental programs.

"These … legislative priorities will help us go above and beyond our number one goal of ensuring access to oral healthcare -- especially our nation's children," said AGD's President, Vincent C. Mayher, D.M.D., M.A.G.D., in a press release.

Aside from SCHIP, none of these bills have passed in the committees where they were introduced. And realistically it's unlikely Congress will move on these bills until sometime next year, Prentice says.

Meanwhile, the two organizations are trying to line up more cosponsors and asking their members to contact their representatives in Congress.

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