House Bill 1144 Defeated Today on Tie Vote

February 4, 2010

In an extremely disappointing turn of events, the battle on HB 1144 – the bill that would stop dental insurers from dictating fees for non covered services – ended this morning on a tie vote (32-32), with one member of the House absent. Under House rules, a bill that doesn’t have 33 votes on the third and final House reading is declared dead.

The one person absent in the House had told Rep. Rice, the bill sponsor, that he planned to vote for the bill. In addition, the political maneuvering that went on around this vote was substantial. Rep. Rice expressed his dismay and ire that several people who he thought agreed to vote yes on the bill voted no in the end. It is very unusual for a legislator to go back on their word on a bill vote without fair notice to the bill sponsor.

For a full vote tally and to see how your legislator voted, click here. To send a follow up note to your legislator about their vote, click here.

Rep. Joe Rice, the bill sponsor, did an outstanding job of advocating for patients and dentists throughout the process. Other legislators, including Reps. Bradford, Court, Kefalas, Liston, McCann, Middleton and Tyler, were also well spoken advocates. We appreciate their understanding and commitment on this issue.

The outspoken opponents of the bill included Reps. Merrifield, Pommer, Stephens and Swalm. They went out of their way to reinforce misinformation provided by the insurance companies. Insurance companies repeatedly described this bill as ‘anti-consumer’, and convinced many legislators that dentists intended to raise their prices with increased costs to the consumer as a result. The insurance companies recruited several allies – from associations representing organized labor to those in the business community, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, an association whose mission is to advocate for small businesses.

We want to thank you for your efforts in writing and calling your legislators. Many legislators noted that they had discussed this bill with dentists in their district, and their own dentist. In fact, Rep. Lois Court said from the floor:

“I’m coming at this from a sort-of philosophical position and that is why we are down here. We were elected to represent our constituents because they believe we will represent them well and because they have faith, I hope, in our judgment. I have gotten lots and lots of emails on this bill from dentists in my district – and so I have been forced to consider this philosophical argument of how much my opinion is what I should vote and how much their opinion is what I should vote. And I came to a conclusion, similar to what some of my colleagues have said, that this is a good bill, so fortunately my opinion about this bill and my constituents’ desires match up. So I am trying to be a truly representative Representative by voting as constituents have suggested I should – and also having looked at all sides of this bill. So, I feel good that I will be a “yes” vote on this bill.”

As you can see, your outreach definitely made a difference. Several legislators expressed that conversations with dentists in their area were the deciding factor in their vote for the bill.

The outcome on this bill underscores the importance of keeping long term, positive relationships with all members of the General Assembly. In the day to day pressure of the session, legislators depend upon ‘sound bites’ to make their decisions regarding bills. It is important that, outside the session, they understand things like: the nature of the business side of dentistry; the mismatch between large insurers and health providers; the trust that dentists work diligently to develop with their patients; and the fact that dentists are highly consumer sensitive and caring. This kind of foundation helps legislators to view assertions of dentist anti-consumerism with skepticism in the heat of the battle. We will be continuing to work with dentists around the state to develop these types of long-term relationships with legislators. If you are willing to get involved in this process to help in the long term success of these dental issues, click here to sign up.

We are committed to continuing to pursue a fix to the non covered service fee issue and will keep you posted with more information as available.