The dental field is home to countless stakeholders, each with their own agenda and vision for health policy. As health care practitioners, we are committed to providing the best standard of care to our patients. It’s important for us to understand what health policy is so we can affect it in the best interest of our patients and the profession.
The World Health Organization defines health policy as “…decisions, plans and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific health care goals within a society.” These political, economic and social policies seek to improve patient safety, promote healthy outcomes and achieve quality standards. The day-to-day work of agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) determine policy that affects how we practice.
As dental students, we have the opportunity to work with ASDA to create and advocate for health policies that benefit our patients. One issue ASDA is committed to combating is barriers to care. This is something that I am passionate about as well.
I wanted to become a dentist after seeing how much need there was in my community and communities across the nation. Many patients have barriers such as finances and geography or lack of transportation that keep them away from the dentist until they are in dire need of care. Some of these procedures could have been prevented if they were able to see a dentist sooner. Because of this, I’ve taken an interest in learning how dentists, along with public and private partners, can collaborate to ensure all Americans have access to quality oral health care services.
ASDA has already taken steps toward this by adopting two policies related to barriers to care: H-1 Student Involvement to Address Barriers to Care and H-2 Evidence-Based Solutions for Barriers to Care. How have these policies been put into practice? Every year, students are advocating for bills that will alleviate barriers. Most recently in 2018, the Action for Dental Health Act was adopted. ASDA members sent more than 600 letters to Congress members in support of this legislation. This year, the Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act (ELSA) was advocated for at the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day. Students are continuing to advocate for this by sending Engage Action Alerts and informing their members of Congress.
Get involved with policy
Other key issues affecting the profession include midlevel providers, dental benefits and student debt. Research these topics so you can discover the issues you’re passionate about, learn more about where ASDA stands and where the future of our profession is heading.
Each year, ASDA’s House of Delegates meets at Annual Session to elect leaders and adopt policy. If you are passionate about a topic, make sure you submit a resolution. Your resolution could become policy and be advocated for!
Another outlet for you to engage with policy is at the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day to be held April 26-28 in Washington, D.C. Over 1,000 dentists and dental students from across the country visit the nation’s capital to advocate for their patients, profession and their practice. You will hear from political analysts, subject matter experts and politically involved dentists on issues that affect oral health in the United States. It is a great opportunity to learn more about health policy and issues that impact our profession and our patients.
~Jennifer Lenning, Tennessee ’21, ASDA Legislative Coordinator, Districts 4-5