By Dave Ranney
November 04, 2013

Deliberations aimed at resolving a long-simmering dispute over whether to allow mid-level dental practitioners in Kansas have ended without agreement.

“There was mediation, and it was good that we had the discussion,” said Christie Appelhanz, vice president in charge of public affairs at Kansas Action for Children and a spokesperson for the Kansas Dental Project. “But it did not end in compromise.”

Appelhanz spoke Monday at a meeting of the Kansas Dental Project coalition.

She said the group would be “moving forward” in the coming 2014 session with the legislative package — House Bill 2157 and Senate Bill 197 — that it supported during this year’s legislative session.

“What happened in mediation doesn’t change our strategy,” she said.

After the two bills stalled in the 2013 session, Rep. David Crum — a Republican from Augusta and chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee — asked the two opposing sides to use the summer and fall to settle their differences on the proposals.

Attempts to reach Crum for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

Coalition members are advocating the licensing of so called “mid-level practitioners” to do temporary fillings and tooth extractions in addition to the cleanings, fluoride varnishes and other procedures hygienists do now.

The Kansas Dental Association, which represents most of the state’s dentists, opposes the coalition’s plan, arguing it would jeopardize patient care.

KDA Executive Director Kevin Robertson did not respond to calls seeking comment Monday.

Appelhanz said the two sides met for the last time Oct. 9.

Over the summer and fall, the coalition has grown to include more than 50 members, including organizations as diverse as Americans for Prosperity-Kansas Chapter, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, and associations representing the state’s nursing homes and community mental health centers, she said.

Appelhanz said one of the state’s three KanCare managed care companies, Sunflower State Health Plan, recently became a member.

“We’re waiting to hear back from the other two” KanCare companies, she said.

Also on Monday, coalition members heard from Jeff Bartleson, senior manager with Children’s Dental Services, a program that provides dental care for low-income children in Minnesota.

Currently, Minnesota and Alaska are the only states that allow advanced hygienists.

Bartleson said access to mid-level dental providers has allowed Children’s Dental Services there to make major inroads in reaching children who previously had little or no access to dental care.

The often-expressed fear by dentists that patient care would suffer, he said, has not materialized. Minnesota has licensed mid-level providers since 2010.

Bartleson called the Kansas mediation effort a well-intended but “silly venture,” noting that state and national associations representing dentists have been unyielding on the issue.

Appelhanz said: “It’s working in Minnesota and it can work in Kansas.”

The Kansas Dental Project is led by Kansas Action for Children, Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, and the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition. Its efforts are funded by United Health Ministry Fund, HealthCare Foundation of Greater Kansas City, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Kansas Health Foundation, which is the major funder of the Kansas Health Institute, the parent organization of KHI News Service.

Read more from the Kansas Health Institute.