KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Study Finds Benefits Of Dental Therapists In Alaska, Insurance Commissioner Steps Down In Conn.

The New York Times, certified dental therapists in Alaska, "the only state where nondentists may perform extractions and administer fillings. The therapists, who receive two years of training, help fill a vacuum: Alaska has long had trouble attracting and retaining licensed dentists. Sixty percent of Alaska Native children ages 2 to 5 have untreated decay, and 20 percent of Native adults over 55 have no teeth at all. But the American Dental Association, the nation's leading dental society, opposes the use of nondentists for 'irreversible procedures' - including drilling and extraction - citing patient safety. … Now a two-year foundation-supported study has reignited the debate over which practitioners are qualified to provide dental care, especially to underserved populations in high-poverty areas" (Cohen, 11/1).

Indian Country Today: The research "offered several positive findings specifically about the program, including that dental therapists are technically competent to perform the procedures within their scope of work and are doing so safely and appropriately; they are consistently working under the general supervision of dentists; and they are successfully treating cavities and helping to relieve pain for people who often had to wait months or travel hours to seek treatment. At the same time, patients tend to be satisfied with the care they received, and the program has been well-accepted in tribal villages. … The [ADA] has opposed Congress expanding the Alaska therapist model, and has suggested that the drastic shortage of dentists in the IHS system is being addressed" (Capriccioso, 11/2).

The Connecticut Monitor: "State Insurance Commissioner Thomas R. Sullivan, whose department sparked controversy last month when it approved rate hikes as high as 47 percent for Connecticut's largest health insurer, resigned Monday to take a job in the private sector, Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office confirmed. Full details of Sullivan's departure, including his next job assignment, were not available late Monday, though the administration confirmed Sullivan would leave his state post in two weeks. Sullivan, who was appointed Connecticut's 30th insurance commissioner by Rell in April 2007, drew criticism last month when his agency gave the green light to the largest rate increase in the state since the national health care reform was enacted" (Phaneuf, 11/1).

The Washington Post: "The largest nurses union in the United States asked the D.C. Health Department on Monday to investigate nurse understaffing at Washington Hospital Center that the union says is jeopardizing patient care. In a 19-page report filed with the department, National Nurses United documented 50 instances of what it described as unsafe patient care this year in all departments in the hospital. No deaths were reported. The reports describe instances of patients not receiving medication on time, newborn infants not being fed promptly and a patient who was rushed back to the operating room after the patient had stopped breathing and suffered cardiac arrest. The union did not know whether the patient survived" (Sun, 11/1).

Kansas Health Institute: "As part of a growing national effort to prevent prescription drug abuse, the Kansas State Board of Pharmacy will soon launch a computerized monitoring program designed to give doctors and pharmacists near-instant access to patient drug histories. … The Web-based monitoring system chosen by the board is called RxSentry, a product of Health Information Designs, which is headquartered in Auburn, Ala. The company also provides drug utilization services to the Kansas Health Policy Authority and prescription monitoring services to government agencies in 10 states" (Ranney, 11/1). 

Oregon Public Broadcasting News: "Oregon unveiled part of its plan for implementing the federal health overhaul this week. When the federal government banned health insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, two of Oregon's largest insurers stopped offering 'child-only' policies. Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon and HealthNet were worried parents would only sign-up their kids once they became sick -- thus undercutting the premise of insurance. The state's fix is an enrollment window -- from November 1st to December 31st -- so parents can't wait until illness strikes" (Foden-Vencil, 11/2). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.