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House panel defers dental proposal

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After more than an hour of debate, a House health-care spending panel Tuesday put off action on a bill that would provide money to the Florida Department of Health for a study that could result in the creation of new type of provider known as dental therapists.

House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said the bill (HB 683) could be rescheduled in his panel.

Sponsored by Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami, the bill would provide $250,000 to study the delivery of dental care in Florida and examine recommendations to increase the number of mid-level dental providers, including community dental-health coordinators and dental therapists.

The bill was amended so the study could also examine the possibility of a dental student-loan repayment program for 10 dentists who agree to serve in medically underserved areas of the state.

But the bill was opposed by the Florida Dental Association, with lobbyist Joe Anne Hart saying the state doesn’t have a dental shortage and will have enough dentists “well into the year 2035.”

She said the $250,000 proposed for the study would be better directed toward a dental student-loan forgiveness program proposed in another bill (HB 369).

That bill cleared one committee but hasn’t been taken up by Brodeur, who said he opposes loan forgiveness programs.

“The market should drive this,” he said.

In its original iteration, Perez’s bill would have authorized new providers, called licensed dental therapists, to perform tasks under the general supervision of dentists.

But Perez last week agreed to amend the bill to authorize only the study.

Brodeur’s committee tagged two amendments onto the measure, with one providing $250,000 for the department to conduct the study and the other authorizing the examination of the possibility of a loan-forgiveness program.