Regulation and choice

Sometimes public policy is designed for the benefit of a few at the expense of all others. A recent California bill is a perfect example of just that: 

Shares of SmileDirectClub SDC -12.85% Inc. fell nearly 13% Monday and hit their lowest point ever after legislation was signed in California that includes language threatening to make it tougher for the state’s residents to buy from the teeth-straightening startup.

The bill, AB 1519, reauthorizes the Dental Board of California but contains new regulations pertaining to the telehealth orthodontic industry. Specifically, the bill requires a dentist providing orthodontics, whether traditionally or via a telehealth system, to review a patient’s recent X-rays, according to the California Dental Association.

SmileDirectClub said Monday, “While this bill does not preclude SmileDirectClub’s continued operations in California, it will create unnecessary hurdles and costs to Californians that need care but struggle to afford it.”

The company sells clear teeth aligners directly to consumers without requiring visits to orthodontists’ offices, often at a fraction of the price of traditional treatments. SmileDirectClub said the bill “represents the dental lobby’s thinly veiled attempt to protect traditional dentistry at the expense of Californians.”

Often health care policy is written in a way to protect certain entities through state-sanctioned means. Other examples of this include certificate of need laws or outdated nurse practitioner requirements. It amounts to a turf war and often times the most well funded and organized group, such as the Dental Board of California, prevails. Patients would likely be much better off if their health care decisions, including oral care, were left up to market forces, rather than what a special interest believes is best. 

Readers may remember a similar case to this in North Carolina, which ended up at the Supreme Court. In NC Dental Board of Examiners v. FTC, the court was asked to decide if the cease and desist orders sent out by the North Carolina Dental Board to teeth whiteners at mall kiosks and salons violated anti-trust regulations. The FTC challenged these orders as anti-competitive and after numerous court cases, the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the decision.

Jordan Roberts / Health Policy Analyst

Jordan joined the Locke Foundation in the summer of 2018 as Health Care Policy Analyst. He analyzes state and national health policy issues with an eye toward removing governm...

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