The Florida House and Senate have passed HB 843, which would establish the Dental Student Loan Repayment Program to support dentists who practice in public health programs located in certain underserved areas. It now awaits Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature.
“This vote is a significant step forward in providing immediate solutions to improve oral health, and resulting overall health for all Floridians, particularly in our state’s underserved and rural areas,” the Florida Dental Association (FDA) said in a statement.
“This legislation would help bring dentists to areas where they are needed by re-establishing a dental student loan repayment program for dentists who practice as Medicaid providers serving low-income patients in designated rural and underserved areas,” the FDA said.
Florida is one of only five states that don’t have a dental student loan repayment program, the FDA reports. Participating dentists can receive up to $50,000 a year to help repay their loans and serve in the program for up to five years.
To qualify, dentists must be licensed in Florida and demonstrate active employment in a public health program that serves Medicaid recipients and other low-income patients and is located in a dental health professional shortage area or a medically underserved area.
Public health programs may include county health departments, the Children’s Medical Services program, federally funded community health centers, federally funded migrant health centers, or other publicly funded or nonprofit healthcare programs.
The FDA says the program could be implemented in six months. The program will limit the number of new dentists participating in it to no more than 10 per fiscal year. In five years, the FDA says, 10 dentists could treat at least one million Floridians.
HB 843 also would expand Florida’s Donated Dental Services program, which recruits volunteer dentists and dental labs to provide free comprehensive treatment to the disabled, elderly, or medically compromised who are unable to afford dental care.
The FDA notes that the legislation will provide immediate restorative care and relief from dental pain and ensure that residents have access to the highest standard of dental care. Oral health also is critical to maintaining overall health, the FDA adds.