Dental practices that have been harmed or disadvantaged by the COVID-19 pandemic will find support through CDA-sponsored or supported bills signed into law in recent weeks by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Altogether, the governor signed 14 CDA-supported bills that help dentists practice better and expand access to oral health care, but two especially will bring needed relief and empowerment to dental practices that are contending with pandemic-related costs as well as state and local vaccination and testing mandates. Both bills were major priorities for CDA in the latest legislative session.
CDA worked on several bills to secure assistance for dentists who have been paying more for personal protective equipment since the pandemic was declared in March 2020. The skyrocketing costs have been exacerbated by product scarcity, supply chain disruptions and price gouging, and many providers are still paying in the range of $10-$25 per patient for required PPE, adding up to thousands of dollars in extra costs every month.
The pandemic has also shone a light on health plans’ ability to make record profits during public health emergencies by collecting premiums while paying fewer claims due to fewer patients receiving care.
SB 242 by Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) is the outcome of CDA and California Medical Association’s efforts to protect health care providers. It requires health care service plans during future public health future emergencies to reimburse California-licensed dentists, physicians and other specified health care providers for critical PPE and other business expenses necessary to prevent the spread of respiratory-transmitted infectious diseases.
Health care service plans include plans that issue, sell, renew or offer contracts covering dental services.
“While we continue to work through challenges presented by the current pandemic, we need a regulatory structure in place to respond quickly to future public health emergencies, and this new law achieves that,” said CDA Government Affairs Council Chair Stephanie Sandretti, DDS. “Requiring insurance plans to provide timely financial assistance for PPE and other increased business expenses will help ensure that provider networks remain intact and prevent future disruptions in access to care.”
Business expenses as defined in the law include PPE, supplies, materials and clinical staff time above the usual included expenses for an office visit.
Reimbursements would begin during public health emergencies declared on or after Jan. 1, 2022, and apply for each individual patient visit.
Assemblymember Jim Wood, DDS (D-Santa Rosa), is a leading champion in the state Legislature for dentistry and oral health care. In recent years, Wood has authored successful legislation that creates greater transparency in dental plan network leasing and prohibits sales in California of flavored tobacco products that are typically marketed to teens and individuals in low-income communities.
Now, Wood is focused on ensuring dentists have a major part in the state’s COVID-19 response, including making it easier for them to comply without undue burden to current public health mandates.
He authored CDA-sponsored AB 526, which gives California dentists permanent authority to independently prescribe and administer COVID-19 and influenza vaccines to individuals ages 3 and older.
The bill also allows dentists to obtain the requisite laboratory licensure to administer rapid COVID-19 tests to patients and employees in the dental office. Prior to the bill, dentists could obtain the CLIA Certificate of Waiver required to conduct waived tests but were not eligible to obtain the required state Laboratory Field Services registration. Wood’s law aligns California statute with federal law and enables dentists to register in the state as a “lab director” to conduct waived tests, including FDA-approved antigen COVID-19 tests.
As a result, dentists have a pathway to licensure that will help them comply with COVID-19 vaccination and testing mandates and screen for COVID-19 to keep patients and dental teams safe. The state’s public health order mandating full vaccination or regular testing took effect Aug. 23, while more stringent local public health orders are also now in effect in several cities and counties.
“As frontline health professionals, dentists are uniquely positioned to be immediately responsive and accessible during a health care crisis,” said Asm. Wood. “By permanently granting dentists the ability to respond to the clinical needs of their patients through the administration of certain vaccines and the conducting of laboratory tests that fall within their scope of practice, our state’s ability to respond with early diagnosis and vaccination is expanded and enhanced. AB 526 ensures that dentists will continue to play an early and vital role during public health crises.”
AB 526 was passed as an urgency statute, meaning it took effect as soon as Gov. Newsom signed it Oct. 8. Dentists will find detailed licensure application instructions and guidance in CDA’s updated COVID-19 Laboratory Testing Toolkit.
Increased protections for borrowers of private student loans and simplified reporting requirements for health care facilities are among CDA’s other legislative achievements.
Borrowers of private student loans will have additional protections from private education lenders’ collection practices when CDA-supported legislation takes effect in January 2022.
Among other things, AB 424 by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) prohibits private education lenders from attempting to collect a private education loan in writing without first possessing and providing certain information about the loan to the student borrower, such as the creditor’s account number, the loan amount due at default, itemization of interest and fees and a list of all collection attempts made in the last 12 months, including dates and times of all telephone calls.
In addition, the new law will prohibit private education lenders or loan collectors from bringing a suit or initiating any legal proceeding to collect a loan if the applicable statute of limitations on the claim has expired.
Hearing members’ concerns that they would be subject to duplicative reporting requirements related to notifying employees of potential COVID-19 exposure, CDA supported AB 654 by Assemblymember Reyes (D-San Bernardino).
While CDA and dentists recognize that employers should properly notify employees of potential COVID-19 exposure at the worksite, requiring such notification under separate legislation passed in 2020 led to confusion and duplicative efforts for dentists who are already required to comply with Aerosol Transmissible Disease standards under California state regulations.
AB 654 newly includes private health care providers, including dentists, in the previous bill’s “health facility” exemption.
“Health care facilities and providers have taken significant steps to utilize enhanced PPE and infection control procedures,” said Dr. Sandretti. “AB 654 will help reduce any confusion or duplicative reporting requirements by including our providers in the definition of exempted health facilities.”
Another bill imposes a 12.5% retail sales tax on the price of all e-cigarettes sold in California, as CDA previously reported. The tax will take effect July 1, 2022, and provide ongoing funding for the CalHealthCares Student Loan Repayment Grant and other education and health care programs in the state.
Learn more about CDA’s advocacy.