Florida dentists could qualify for up to $250,000 in student-loan repayments under a bill filed Tuesday by Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater.
The bill (SB 716) is a priority for the Florida Dental Association and would establish the Dental Student Loan program at the Florida Department of Health.
It would seek to provide incentives for dentists to practice in public health programs or in areas of the state that lack dental professionals or are medically underserved. The bill would limit to 10 the number of dentists who could annually benefit under the program.
Dentists could qualify for up to $50,000 annually in loan repayments for up to a five-year period. The costs of books, dental equipment and supplies, uniforms and living expenses could be covered under the program.
Dentists would lose eligibility if they stop working in public health programs or underserved areas, stop accepting Medicaid or if they are disciplined by Board of Dentistry. In addition to establishing the loan-repayment program, the bill would require the state to establish what’s called the “Donated Dental Services Program.”
The program would be responsible for providing comprehensive dental care to low-income, elderly, disabled or medically compromised people who cannot afford needed treatment but don’t qualify for Medicaid.
The bill would require the Department of Health to contract with a nonprofit organization to administer the program, which would include maintaining a network of volunteer dentists and other providers willing to volunteer and developing a public awareness and marketing campaign.
Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, has filed a House version (HB 465) that is similar to Hooper’s bill.
The Florida Dental Association touts the measures as an alternative to legislation that would create what are known as dental therapists. The dental therapists’ issue is being supported by a group calling itself Floridians for Dental Access.