Dental procedures may only represent 4% of national health care expenditures,1 but in Washington, D.C., dentists carry clout. Consistently one of the top political donors in the health care sector, the field has four dentists in Congress: U.S. Reps. Drew Ferguson, DMD (R-Ga. 3rd), Mike Simpson, DMD (R-Idaho 2nd), Paul Gosar, DDS (R-Ariz. 4th), and Brian Babin, DDS (R-Texas 36th).
Although dentistry has benefited from expansions in public funding for dental health care under the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Affordable Care Act (programs supported by Democrats), the field also values a conservative approach to business, including low taxes and fewer regulations. This is reflected in its political donations, which, in the 2018 election cycle, have been split between parties, with 63% going to Republicans and 37% directed toward Democratic candidates.2 This split is similar to most of the other top-donating groups that represent health care providers.
However, while dentistry has historically leaned right in political donations, future issues and national politics will determine the profession’s lobbying and political spending priorities. Experienced political operatives know that even in highly partisan times, candidates who support your priorities can be found in either party. It is wise to back candidates based on the issues that matter to your field and build bridges with the candidates most likely to be elected. In a normal midterm election, the party that holds the presidency loses seats in Congress, which means dentistry’s 2018 election-cycle political spending could end up being slightly higher for Democrats than normal — that is, if they pursue the strategy of donating toward likely winners, or splitting donations between candidates in tight races.
The profession may also add a Democrat dentist or two to Congress in this year’s midterm elections. While all four dentists in Congress at the moment are Republicans, Jeff Van Drew, DDS, is running as a Democrat for the New Jersey 2nd District seat, and Gary Wegman, DDS, is running as a Democrat for the newly created Pennsylvania 9th District seat.
Whatever the outcome in the midterms, dentistry’s traditionally sizable campaign contributions will ensure the field continues to have a voice in national politics larger than its comparative size among health care providers.
- U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. National Health Expenditures 2016 Highlights. Available at: https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/National Health ExpendData/downloads/highlights.pdf. Accessed June 21, 2018.
- The Center for Responsive Politics. Dentists: Top Contributors to Federal Candidates, Parties, and Outside Groups. Available at: https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/contrib.php?cycle=2018&ind=H1400. Accessed June 21, 2018.
From Decisions in Dentistry. July 2018;4(7):46.