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Legislature roundup: Senate holds off on expanding dental care

State House Bureau

January 30. 2014 9:21PM

CONCORD — A new designation for dental hygienists will have to wait for at least a year after the Senate decided to reverse course and study how best to improve dental care for low-income residents, the elderly and disabled.

The Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee recommended Senate Bill 193 be approved. The bill establishes the designation of dental hygiene practitioners who would be able to fill and pull teeth in coordination with a dentist.

The practitioner would be similar to a nurse practitioner in a physician’s office.

The prime sponsor of the bill Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, said the new designation would “help close one of the gaps in our oral health care delivery system that bars its doors to many of our most vulnerable: children, seniors, and others with physical or financial barriers to routine dental care.”

The proposal provides a less expensive alternative while improving access to dental care, she said.

Her proposal had the backing of more than 20 organizations in the state but not the New Hampshire Dental Society, which fought the bill calling it untimely and unnecessary.

The Senate on Thursday approved a commission that will report by Nov. 15, 2015, on what can be done to improve oral health for New Hampshire residents.

The 12-member commission would be comprised of dental providers, oral health advocates and several members of the House and Senate.

The commission passed the Senate on a 22-2 vote.

The Maine Senate approved a similar proposal Thursday. The dental hygienist practitioner plan has already passed the Maine House.

Malpractice panels

The Senate defeated an attempt to overhaul the state’s medical malpractice panels, which were established nearly a decade ago to both streamline and lower the cost of medical malpractice litigation.

Malpractice suits take three or four years to come to trial and the costs are prohibitive to many who believe they have a claim for malpractice.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said the panels are not working, and instead are becoming mini-trials that take nearly as long as litigation and cost almost as much.

She noted only two panels were held in 2012, which is down from the year before.

Carson said the panels were supposed to reduce malpractice insurance costs for medical providers but it has not, and New Hampshire continues to have some of the highest premiums in the country.

But Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the panels are working because they often lead to settlements, and they do take less time and are less costly than a jury trial.

The Senate voted 21-3 to kill House Bill 583, which would have overhauled the screening panel process.

Industrial hemp

The Senate wants to study whether industrial hemp should be removed from its designation as a controlled drug.

The House approved House Bill 153, which would have allowed farmers to grown industrial hemp as a crop. The hemp is used for such things as rope and clothes and does not contain the intoxicating chemicals in marijuana.

However, law enforcement has opposed legalizing industrial hemp saying it is impossible to tell the difference from marijuana without chemical testing.

The Senate approved a committee to study the issue instead.

New hospital unit

The Senate approved two bills that will allow the Health and Human Services Department to speed up the opening of a new 10-bed mental-health stabilization unit at New Hampshire Hospital.

The Senate approved bills to begin renovations a year early, and to appropriate $411,000 to fund the operation of the unit.

Health and Human Service officials want the unit up and running as soon as possible in order to reduce the number of mental health patients in local hospital emergency rooms because there is no room at New Hampshire Hospital.

Officials expect the unit to be available more than a year ahead of schedule.

The House will have to agree to the plan.


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