Dentists graduate with a lot of student loan debt. That means it's hard for them to set up in rural areas where people might not have much money -- or health insurance.
But two bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would create a repayment plan for dentists who practice in areas with few dentists.
Zack Kalarickal, a dentist in Wesley Chapel, said this will make oral health care more accessible for a lot of people.
"We know that there are over 700,000 Floridians who live in 30 of Florida's rural counties right now and 29 of those rural counties lack sufficient access to a dentist,” Kalarickal said.
HB 369 and SB 764, filed by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) and Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), would establish a dental student loan repayment program for eligible dentists who practice in a public health program that serves Medicaid recipients and low-income patients in dental health professional shortage areas or medically underserved areas of Florida.
Participating dentists, who are graduating with student loan debt averaging from $250,000 to $400,000, may receive up to $50,000 per year to help repay those student loans and can serve in this program for up to five years.
“In addition to being a critical part of an individual’s overall health and well-being, good oral health promotes employment opportunities and reduces the burden of health care costs,” said Burton in a press release. “This legislation will promote attainable dental care, job growth and economic development in underserved areas of Florida, particularly our state’s rural communities.”
“There's absolutely no shortage of dentists in the state -- or really in the nation,” Kalarickal said. “The challenge really is having the dentists in all of the rural communities where people need them."
Similar legislation was vetoed in 2016 by Gov. Rick Scott after passing unanimously through both chambers of the Florida legislature.