Earlier this week Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield and other members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force testified on the response and reopening phases before the Senate Health Committee. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) gave testimony about the impact of the closure of dental offices in the State of Maine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is what she said:
What was the principal reason why the people of Maine lacked access to emergent dental care during the COVID-19 pandemic? A lack of clear laws permitting teledentistry. Many experts point to the power of the organized dentistry lobby – highlighted in this Washington Post article that focused on dental politics and access to care in Maine – as a major contributor as to why there are no teledentistry laws in place. In fact, the American Dental Association is one of Sen. Collins’ major donors – ranked as #5 in contributions to her leadership PAC. Organized dentistry fears that teledentistry will cut into their monopolistic market-share; however, in reality, it will only increase access to affordable care, give patients and dentists more flexibility and convenience, and keep our communities safe as we deal with the fallout of this virus. A win-win-win.
The leadership of Maine also agrees that telehealth solutions are critical – not only now but into the future. An executive order issued by Maine’s Governor Janet Mills on March 24, 2020 stated that non-urgent medical and dental procedures should be postponed and “the use of telehealth and telephone consultation is strongly encouraged.” A day later on March 25th, 2020 the Maine Board of Dental Practice released a COVID-19 message to dentists which declared that the Board has no clear authorization by statute or order that teledentistry is within the scope of practice for licensees. This frustrating legal grey-area has left tens of thousands of Maine citizens scratching their heads about how they are supposed to obtain needed dental care remotely.
The good news is that there is proposed legislation in the Maine State Legislature (LD 2146) authorizing teledentistry to ensure continued access to care – regardless of the modality. Unfortunately, the bill has been carried over to any Special Session of the 129th Legislature due to COVID. The American Teledentistry Association implores Senator Collins to support the efforts to legislate for teledentistry in Maine by encouraging legislators to pass HP 1535 rather than focus on the agenda of organized dentistry whose only focus is on preserving the profession’s economic status quo rather than increasing desperately needed access to dental care especially during a pandemic.