In February 2021, a bill (H 6032) was introduced in the Rhode Island State Legislature to provide coverage for telemedicine under Rhode Island Medicaid. The Health and Human Services Committee heard the bill (which had no component relevant to teledentistry) on Friday, June 25. Prior to the floor vote on Tuesday, June 29th, the bill was amended at the last minute. The amendment included language (Substitute A) that would have prohibited the Board of Dentistry from adopting rules imposing a different or more restrictive standard of care on teledentistry than rules for the delivery of dental care in person. (For example, the Board would not have been able to require that an x-ray be taken prior to beginning orthodontic treatment through teledentistry unless it was also required for in-person treatment.)
Over the next 48 hours, the AAO and its Rhode Island members sprang into action to oppose the amendment, as did the Rhode Island Dental Association and its members. Dr. Cosmo Haralambidis, a member of the Rhode Island Association of Orthodontists, mobilized Rhode Island orthodontists to reach out to their legislators to let them know the potential consequences of this amendment. The AAO’s Legal and Advocacy Team supported the efforts of the Rhode Island orthodontists, including analyzing draft bill language, providing information to Rhode Island orthodontists, and monitoring the efforts of the RIDA.
The next day, during the floor vote for the bill, several legislators indicated their concerns after hearing from so many constituent dentists and orthodontists who had concerns with the amendment. The floor vote was delayed again, to the final day of the legislative session, and Rhode Island AAO members continued to reach out to their legislators. On Thursday, July 1st, the House of Representatives heard the bill for the final time. Additional representatives noted that they were inundated with calls and emails from orthodontists and dentists throughout the state. As a result of efforts from the AAO, Rhode Island AAO members, RIDA, and Rhode Island dentists, the amendment language prohibiting the Board of Dentistry from promulgating certain teledentistry rules was removed, and the bill to allow for Medicaid coverage for telemedicine visits passed without any opposition.
Dr. Cosmo Haralambidis’ leadership on this matter and all the Rhode Island orthodontists who reached out to state representatives demonstrate the impact orthodontists, as constituents, can have on the legislative process and the importance of educating legislators on issues of patient health and safety.
In summer 2019, the Rhode Island Board of Dentistry created a teledentistry committee to research and draft teledentistry regulations. The Board is still working on these regulations, and the AAO will continue to advocate for Rhode Island members and support rules that are in the best interest of patient health and safety. The defeat of the amendment ensures that the Board will be able to enact any regulations needed to best protect patients.
Please also note that every orthodontist (as a citizen of and licensed dental provider in his or her state) and every patient has the right, independently and individually, to express his or her opinion on any dental issue to his or her state dental board, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and elected state officials (e.g. Attorney General, Governor, state representative, etc.). If you feel so compelled, you can look up and contact the appropriate entity.