Last Thursday, March 8, marked the end of the 2012 60-day legislative session. The regular session proved to be very eventful but the Legislature failed to pass a supplemental budget to close the $500 million shortfall in state’s current two year operating budget. As a result, Governor Chris Gregoire convened a special legislative session focused on passing a supplemental budget and other large budget issues. Special legislative sessions carry restrictions that do not exist during regular legislative sessions. Therefore, the Legislature can only focus on budget issues during this special session and cannot deliberate on other policy issues. Here’s a breakdown on what happened on the major legislation that WSDA followed during 2012 regular session:
SB 5620 authorizes the creation of certified dental anesthesia assistants (CDAA). CDAAs will be allowed to assistant oral surgeons will patient monitoring, initiate and discontinue intravenous lines, administer emergency medications, and perform are duties under direct verbal command. The Dental Quality Assurance Commission will now begin writing rule for the new law.
SB 6131 was a minor technical amendment to Washington’s bulk mercury law which takes effect in June. SB 6131 clarifies that dental amalgam and other commercial devices containing mercury (such as switches used in airplanes) are not included in a ban on the sale, purchase, or distribution of bulk mercury. SB 6131 was supported by the Department of Ecology, WSDA, and several business groups.
HB 2319 is Governor and Insurance Commissioner requested legislation for implementing the federal affordable care act in Washington. HB 2319 clarifies the responsibilities of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board of Directors, what health benefits must be included in health plans, and market rules for health plans offered inside and outside of the exchange. Under federal law, pediatric dental benefits must be offered in health plans offered in the exchange but HB 2319 requires that all dental plans must be offered separate from medical plans to ensure that consumers can more easily compare dental insurance options. WSDA will continue to monitor how the affordable care act will be implemented in Washington and advocate for the best interests of the profession and dental patients.
HB 2226, and SB 6126
SB 6126 and HB 2226, the dental midlevel provider bills supported by the Kellogg Foundation and the Children’s Alliance, gained momentum in the 2012 Legislative Session but ultimately died in their houses of origin. HB 2226 died in the House Health Committee while SB 6126 was voted out of the Senate Health Committee before it died in the Senate Rules Committee. The WSDA was able to defeat both bills primarily through the efforts of WSDA’s lobbyists Linda Hull and David Michener, robust communication between grassroots dentists and their legislators, and strong testimony from WSDA President Dr. Rodney Wentworth and Dr. Chris Herzog from the WSDA Board of Directors.
However, supporters of SB 6126 and HB 2226 believe they made progress on the issue and claimed some victories of their own. The Children’s Alliance was able to rely on support from new organizations and had representatives from the Dental Health Aide Therapist program in Alaska fly down to testify in favor of SB 6126 and HB 2226. Non-dental organizations supporting midlevel practitioners now include: Statewide Poverty Action Network, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, AARP of Washington, the Washington State Hospital Association and several progressive leaning organizations. In a statement published on their website, the Children’s Alliance stated that their coalition of supporters “will continue working steadfastly through the spring, summer, and fall [on midlevel practitioner legislation] and bring even more momentum and support to the 2013 Legislature.”
The Legislature is still working to complete a supplemental operating budget that closes the remaining $500 million shortfall. While the Republican and Democratic caucuses have not been able to reach an agreement, budgets supported by both groups maintain funding for the Dental Medicaid budget and other dental safety net programs at their current funding levels. While nothing is set in stone until the budget is finalized, WSDA remains consciously optimistic there will not be any further cuts to dental programs this year.