Just eight days ago, I wrote that dental therapy should be legalized in North Dakota. A dental therapist is a licensed oral care professional who works in conjunction with a dental care team to provide clinical and therapeutic care. Some refer to them as “mid-level professionals”— much like a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant.
The bill seeking to legalize dental therapy in North Dakota was House Bill 1426. And it hit the House floor today for debate. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated by a vote of 31-62. This wasn’t the first time the Legislative Assembly had considered this issue. The bill was also defeated in 2015 and 2017. Yes, protectionism reigns supreme for dentists in North Dakota.
The defeat of this bill is bad enough, but the fact that it came after exceptional arguments in favor of it truly showed that logic and principle are not matters of consideration for those who opposed it. I’ll leave the entirety of the debate for your viewing here. But the comments made by Representatives Bill Devlin (R – District 23), Gretchen Dobervich (D – District 11), Dan Johnston (R – District 24), Karen Rohr (R – District 31), Dick Anderson (R – District 6), and Luke Simons (R – District 36) were spectacular.
In the cases of Representatives Devlin and Dobervich, both had personally been to states that have legalized dental therapy. They’ve seen first hand the benefits that can come from the profession.
On the other hand, comments in opposition to the bill were rooted in fear and protectionism. Rep. Kathy Skroch (R – District 26) took the cake though. Aside from the threads of fear and protectionism in her comments, she ended with one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in a floor debate. She described it as an allegory:
“Picture this. You’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumor. You are in a hospital all prepped, head shaved, ready for surgery. At the last minute, in rushes an EMT from the emergency room and says, ‘I am sorry to inform you that your brain surgeon was just in a bad car accident and won’t be able to perform your surgery today. But don’t you worry your little head. I’m going to fill in for him and I can do the operation for the same price.’ Please vote red.”
Seriously. She actually said this.
To say that I expect better of Rep. Skroch is an understatement. Comparing brain surgery to dental work? An EMT — whose received no training to do a brain surgery — to a dental therapist? This is beyond ridiculous. It’s outrageous. Such an argument doesn’t reflect well at all on the representative from District 26. In fact, it’s an insult to every dental therapist who has undergone the schooling, testing, and licensure to do what they do.
The disappointment didn’t stop there though. Even Bastiat Caucus Chairman, Rep. Dan Ruby (R – District 38) stood in opposition to the bill. One of the requirements of HB 1426 was that a dental therapist could only practice under the supervision of a dentist. As Rep. Johnston had just pointed out in his comments, dentists were in the driver’s seat with this bill. If dentists don’t hire the therapists, they don’t have jobs. Yet, Ruby seemed to make an attempt at arguing this point. But as he began to read from the bill itself, as a means of supporting his argument, it was clear that he was wrong. There was nothing in the section that indicated a dentist would be required to take on a dental therapist.
Rep. Ruby was also critical of the term “look-alike” in the bill. This was in relation to a “federally qualified health center look-alike”. Then he claimed that, as sovereign nations, reservations — who it’s argued desperately need this kind of access to care — could authorize dental therapy on their own. Both of these points were shattered when the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Devlin, got up and responded to them. The “look-alike” terminology, Devlin pointed out, is a federal term— not something they came up with just for the bill. And furthermore, Rep. Devlin said, Ruby was wrong— under federal law, reservations can only have dental therapists when a state legislature authorizes them to do so. It was not a good moment for Ruby.
To add even more disappointment, the Bastiat Chairman wasn’t the only member of the caucus to vote against the bill. Yes, this caucus — which is supposed to stand on the principles of limited government and free markets — had others in its ranks who voted against these principles.
I get it— even members of the caucus disagree from time to time. But this was disheartening. Especially after they were reminded of these principles by one of their own — Rep. Dan Johnston — during the floor debate. Even Rep. Dick Anderson expressed his support based upon the principle of free markets.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the Bastiat’s who voted against this bill are awful. But their votes on it are. It’s a sad day when those who are supposed to stand for these principles assist in the effort to defeat them. HB 1426 didn’t go down in defeat because it was a “bad bill”. It failed because too many legislators rejected logic and principle in favor of fear and protectionism.