FTC Staff Comment on Ohio State Legislative Effort to Enhance Access to Dental Care

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Federal Trade Commission staff submitted a comment to the Ohio State Senate on proposed legislation that would broaden dental hygienists’ ability to work without a supervising dentist on-site, and provide for the licensure of dental therapists, a relatively new type of “mid-level” provider who offers some of the same basic services offered by dentists.

In response to Ohio State Senator Peggy Lehner’s request, staff of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning and its Bureaus of Competition and Economics submitted the comment on the likely competitive impact of Senate Bill 330 (SB 330).

The comment stated that S.B. 330’s general supervision provisions could benefit consumers by increasing choice, competition and access to care, especially for those who are underserved. As the bill is currently drafted, however, those benefits would depend on how often supervising dentists authorize general supervision of dental hygienists and therapists in mandatory written supervision agreements.

To ensure that Ohio consumers fully benefit from the bill’s general supervision provisions, the comment suggested that legislators consider whether requiring a dentist to authorize general supervision is necessary to address any legitimate and substantiated health and safety concerns, and whether a less restrictive alternative might achieve such goals without unduly burdening competition.

The comment also stated that licensure of dental therapists could benefit consumers by enhancing competition, reducing prices, and expanding access to dental services. However, the bill would limit these potential benefits by allowing dental therapists to practice only in certain underserved settings. “This restriction would prevent many patients in Ohio from obtaining lower-cost and more accessible dental care from a dental therapist,” the comment stated.

Thus, while the comment supported the proposed licensure of dental therapists, it encouraged Ohio legislators to consider less restrictive alternatives to its requirement that dental therapists practice only in underserved settings. Such alternatives could be equally, or perhaps more, effective in encouraging dental therapists to enter the profession and provide care to the underserved and others who want to obtain care from a dental therapist.

The Commission vote to issue the staff comment was 2-0. It was sent to Ohio State Senator Peggy Lehner on March 7, 2017. (FTC File No. V170003; the staff contact is Karen A. Goldman, Office of Policy Planning, 202-326-2574).

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