The Association of Dental Support Organizations’ government relations creates and maintains a presence that supports a legislative and regulatory environment that allows DSOs of all sizes to continue to grow and serve communities. ADSO is the tip of the spear for government affairs in the DSO space. They focus on government affairs, so their members can concentrate on growing their business. They provide a unified voice for the industry. It’s a real member benefit.
Group Dentistry Now wants to help DSOs of all sizes understand what the ADSO is specifically doing to help and assist them, so we sat down with Lisa Steelman, Vice President, Government Relations and Strategic Alliances, and got a clear picture of the ADSO’s relevance and significance in our industry.
GDN: What specifically is your role in terms of policy and legislation for members?
LS: My activities are entirely focused on maintaining a fair and open competitive marketplace for DSOs to operate.
My government affairs background largely centers around health policy which helps significantly in this role. As the Head of Government Relations and Strategic Alliances for ADSO, I educate key policymakers about DSOs and how the model is an attractive option for dentists wanting to focus more on the clinical practice of dentistry in their community rather than the technicalities of running a business. In an environment wrought with misinformation and inaccurate assumptions about DSOs, this is a more significant piece than I originally anticipated.
A good example is the term ‘corporate dentistry’ that is thrown around by opponents of the model. Dentists affiliated with DSOs are not corporate dentists. They are community dentists providing quality care to their patients – no different than a sole practitioner. They shop at the same neighborhood markets, their children attend the same schools, they play on the same sports teams, and they are committed community partners. The only difference is the model in which they choose to practice dentistry.
GDN: What do your newest team members, Brad Rightnowar and Nina Sheehan, do for the ADSO and how do they assist members?
We all bring a unique set of talents to the table which makes us a great team. I have over 25 years of experience in government affairs but felt ADSO needed an attorney on staff to assist with the legal components of our work. I also was looking for a paralegal to assist in the overall operation of the department.
Brad is our Senior Director of Government Relations and comes to ADSO with 15 years of government experience. He worked on legislative staff, was general counsel to a constitutional officer, general counsel to a state regulatory agency, and has association experience. He has the perfect blend of experience for ADSO. Brad analyzes pending legislation and administrative rules across all 50 states and together we recommend amendments or changes to onerous legislation.
Nina is our Government Relations Specialist. She works with Brad on internal legislative reviews and supports me with the strategic component of our work. She updates our members on activities within the department and assists with all our operations.
GDN: Why is the Government Affairs team important for both large and emerging DSOs? How does it specifically benefit them?
LS: Combined, Brad and I have over 43 years of government experience and were directly involved in over 40 legislative sessions. Together, we bring a level of expertise that allows ADSO to defend the industry and speak with a unified voice. This is a significant benefit to emerging DSOs who may not have the bandwidth or expertise to have an in-house government relations department.
I view ADSO’s government relations as the department that works hard behind the scenes to ensure our members can operate without worrying about government overreach into their business model. Most of the time, we are able to solve problems before our membership is aware there is an issue. There are constant misguided threats to the DSO model. Whether you are a large or an emerging DSO, the impact of onerous administrative rules or legislation is the same for your business.
GDN: How do you work with DSOs that have in-house counsel? How do you support groups that do not have in-house counsel?
LS: Excellent question. Our members that have in-house counsel work closely with the ADSO team, particularly when we need technical input on legislation or regulation. We have a committee of member counsels that serve as technical advisors on government relations issues. ADSO and the state lobby teams are focused on the process of government relations. This committee rounds out that expertise with technical excellence on the operations and various models of DSOs.
GDN: From a legislative standpoint, what successes have you had in the past year? Past five years?
LS: I look at the role of ADSO government relations beyond just the legislative front. As we continue to educate key leaders on the DSO model and the modernization of dentistry, we are starting to see a transformative change in dental boards that reflect the professional community they are regulating.
From a legislative standpoint, ADSO supported passage of model legislation in four states over the past few years that modernized the Dental Practice Acts to better reflect the current operating models. Keep in mind, most Dental Practice Acts were originally passed before the DSO model was introduced. We are seeing transformation in the dental community similar to what transpired in the medical and vision communities ten years ago. In some states, Dental Practice Acts still need revision to better reflect the modernization of dentistry.
GDN: What are current legislative or policy challenges you are experiencing and how are you addressing them?
LS: The mission of ADSO Government Relations is to ensure a legislative and regulatory environment where our members can operate and thrive, so they can provide unsurpassed, affordable and assessible dental care to their patients. We are concerned with any legislative or policy challenges that might prevent our members from delivering the best possible care to those patients. ADSO believes that by communicating the benefits of the DSO model to policymakers that increased knowledge and understanding of the industry will lead to even wider acceptance and growth.
GDN: ADSO has made great progress with states which were once hostile, but are now DSO-friendly. What states still seem to be a challenge and how are you addressing?
LS: Maryland is a challenging state. There was recently a Forbes article published that outlined five years of failed anti-DSO activities initiated by the Maryland Board of Dental Examiners (MBODE). Moving forward, we are encouraged to see the dental community in Maryland elected a minority, female dentist to the board who is affiliated with a DSO. We are currently waiting for the Governor to make his final appointment decisions but remain hopeful the MBODE will begin to better reflect the community they regulate and represent DSOs operating in the state.
DSOs represent a significant economic footprint in their communities and provide stable, good paying jobs with excellent benefits. Dentists affiliated with DSOs deliver clinically superior care to patients and enjoy working in a model that allows them to focus entirely on clinical practice. Many DSOs provide their dentists with technologically advanced equipment many sole practitioners cannot afford. DSOs also give back to the community philanthropically and the affiliated dentists enjoy becoming a community partner, in every sense of the term.
GDN: Briefly describe your time working for the ADSO and the evolution of the association during your time there.
LS: I have been with ADSO for just over a year and have seen a complete reorganization as we assessed the needs of our members and brought on the talent necessary to serve our growing membership. Under the leadership of our Executive Director, Chris Badgley, I expect to see ADSO flourish in terms of both membership and influence.
GDN: Looking at 2019 and beyond, what will be the legislative focus of your team?
LS: The issues in the states may change from year to year, but we will never take our eye of the primary function of ADSO government relations: to create and maintain a presence that supports a legislative and regulatory environment that allows DSOs to continue to grow and serve their communities.
Read more about the ADSO, including their upcoming Summit, in Group Dentistry Now’s exclusive ADSO column HERE.
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