A Law Backing Tribal Sovereignty Is Answer to Expanding Oral Health
But in Olympia, Alan Wicks, general counsel for the Washington State Dental Association, testified that “it’s not a question of tribal sovereignty; it’s a question of federal law.” He pointed out that the Indian Health Care Improvement Act authorizes the Alaska program and prohibits mid-level practice anywhere else in Indian country unless that state offers mid-level profession.
But what Wicks failed to say is that the reason for this prohibition was that the American Dental Association lobbied to make it so. This was a legislative attack on tribal sovereignty.
And this is a prohibition that makes no sense given the challenges ahead.
As National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby recently wrote in Indian Country Today Media Network: “Our population is still underserved. We do not have enough chairs and dentists to service the people who come into our clinic. We reviewed our charts and found that about half of our work could easily be done by dental therapists, and it would take a huge burden off the dentists.”
Tribes are meeting later this week at NCAI to talk about new steps to push the mid-level provider issue forward. It’s clear that dental health therapy works in Alaska — and the same idea could improve oral health across Indian country. Plus it meets the larger health care tests, improving quality and lowering costs.
Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Comment on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/TrahantReports.
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