The 2019 session was a ‘short’ session (legislative sessions alternate between short sessions, which are six weeks, and long sessions which are 8 weeks), which means a lot of legislation was reviewed in a short amount of time. Overall I think the commonwealth made strides toward more equitable access to quality, comprehensive health care through this session – but we still have a way to go.
Some of the important pieces of legislation that passed were:
- ED Study Budget Amendment: Senator George Barker (D-39) carried a budget amendment that was intended to create a workgroup to understand costs related to emergency department visits related to dental issues. The final budget language is a bit different; it directs the state’s Medicaid agency (DMAS) to report costs related to visits to the ED for dental issues that were incurred by Medicaid recipients. Despite the language difference, there is still ample opportunity to work with our friends at DMAS as well as the Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association to better understand total costs related to emergency department visits for dental issues.
- Remote Supervision Legislation: Two pieces of legislation that passed this year clarified supervision protocols for hygienist working in community-based settings under remote supervision. An effort to increase the number of hygienists working throughout the commonwealth to provide preventive services at the community level. One bill enables hygienists employed by the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services to work under an identical protocol as Virginia Department of Health hygienists, and another made clear that dental hygienists practicing under remote supervision can apply fluoride varnish when working under remote supervision.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the scandals within the executive branch that continue to shine a light on the racial inequities that plague Virginia. While I was heartened to see the legislators emphasize equity during the budget process, the decision to not include funding to support efforts to complete a full census count was a missed opportunity, among many, to address some of the inequity directly. I encourage everyone to take some time to listen to the recording of our 2018 Virginia Oral Health Summit keynote speaker Dr. Camara Jones as we continue our work to address the role social determinants play in health equity and what we as health advocates can do to create a more equitable Virginia for all.
While the 2019 legislative session is over I’ll continue to keep an eye on federal issues, like including a comprehensive dental benefit in Medicare, and on local issues like community water fluoridation. To make sure you stay up-to-date on policy news be sure to subscribe to our monthly update!