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U.S. Reps. Kind, Camp Introduce Bill to Increase Access to Dental Care for Native Americans

October 30, 2007
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Dave Camp (R-MI), both members of the tax-writing House Committee on Ways and Means, have introduced a bill that will expand access to dental care for Native Americans. The bill, the Native American Full Access to Dental Care Act (HR 3960), will encourage more dentists to practice in the Indian Health Service (IHS), which is in critical need of dentists.

“Access to good preventive and restorative dental care is absolutely essential to the general health and well-being of all Americans,” Rep. Kind said. “But right now, many Native American communities don’t have enough dentists to meet their needs. This bill will help the IHS better recruit dentists to make a commitment to practicing in these areas of great need, expanding access to dental care for Native Americans across the country.”

Currently more than one-third of dentist positions are vacant within the IHS, the federal agency that provides health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives. This shortage has resulted in insufficient or a total lack of access to important dental care services for many of the 1.8 million Native Americans living in the United States. Lack of dental care can cause greater health issues, as researchers have found that advanced gum disease (periodontitis) can be associated with cardiovascular disease, stroke, and bacterial pneumonia. In addition, according to the American Dental Association, pregnant women who have periodontitis may be more likely to deliver pre-term and/or low birth weight babies.

To help alleviate the shortage, the Native American Full Access to Dental Care Act will encourage more dentists to practice in the IHS. Under current law, dentists and other health professionals who agree to practice in this agency are eligible for federal student loan repayments for the debt they have incurred from a lengthy medical education. These student loan payments, however, are taxable as income, diminishing the impact and usefulness of the loan repayment program. The Native American Full Access to Dental Care Act would exempt these loan repayments from the dentists’ taxable income, making the loan assistance program a more effective recruitment tool for the IHS.

“This legislation is critically important to helping improve dental care for Michigan residents who live on or near a reservation,” said Rep. Camp.   “I am proud to work with Rep. Kind on this innovative legislation that will encourage dentists to provide services in high-need areas.”