Sunday, March 6, 2011

Having a “Dental Therapist” in Town Sounds Good. But Who Pays?

Donald Weidemann, writing in today’s Albuquerque, threw out the entirely debatable notion that it is a bad thing to have to drive “two hours to Amarillo or over four hours to Albuquerque every time we need to see a dentist.” He said, “Getting a dental checkup shouldn’t be an all day ordeal.”
Weidemann knows something about medical service availability in small communities. He is CEO of Union County General Hospital in Clayton, which is a good way from anywhere.
Having a handy dentist might be considered part of “social overhead.” The phrase comes from Joel Mokyr’s “The Enlightened Economy.” Governments provide public goods and social overhead, Mokyr says.
Weidemann was pitching a bill sponsored by his representative, Dennis Roch, a Texico Republican who works for the government. The bill would allow dental therapists, which sound a bit like nurse practitioners, except for dental. The bill is House Bill 495. On Feb 24, the House Health and Government Affairs Committee sent it, without recommendation, to the Business and Industry Committee, which, as of today, showed no action.
This sounds like a good idea. My only question is: who would pay?
If a single government dollar is involved in solving this problem, then I object. And given that it involves health care, the government has to be lurking just behind. That’s because the proposal, for all its virtues, would expand government at a time when that is an especially bad idea.
No doubt, in constructing his argument, Weideman inadvertently overlooked the other dentists in the area. According to the electronic yellow pages ( there are three in Raton, the one in Springer, the nine in Las Vegas, apparently a veritable hotbed of tooth workers.
Finally, for people in small communities, doing many things is “an all day ordeal.” That’s the way it is. People cope by combining big city tasks.

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