Our readers will probably remember Arkansas orthodontist Benjamin Burris. He’s been the subject of various news reports over the last year due to his ongoing battle with the state Board of Dental Examiners. It turns out my colleague Dan Greenberg was right when he predicted last Fall that the dental board hadn’t heard the last of him.
Here’s the back story: the state board conducted a thorough inquisition of Burris’s practice last year because he had been offering low-price dental cleanings to lower-income Arkansans out of his orthodontic clinic. But — despite the fact that Burris is trained and qualified to practice both dentistry and orthodontics — the board apparently believed that Burris acted improperly because he technically operates as an orthodontist, not a dentist. In November, with the threat of losing his practice altogether looming over his head, Burris signed a consent decree, agreeing not to provide dental care to anyone who does not have braces. Fast forward to today: Burris is now fighting back against the state’s heavy-handed tactics.
Teaming up with the Institute For Justice, a pro-liberty, public-interest law firm, Burris filed a federal lawsuit against the dental board yesterday, arguing that his Fourteenth Amendment rights have been violated. According to a statement on the IJ website,
The 14th Amendment protects the right of professionals to offer services that they are perfectly qualified to perform. This case is about eliminating irrational protectionist laws and expanding access to affordable dental and medical care for Americans everywhere.
(If you’re interested, you can read the full complaint at IJ’s website.)
In a press release, Burris emphasized that he believes he has a duty to use his skills as a dentist to help Arkansans, but that duty is being stifled by state government:
The Dental Board is going after me because I want to shake up an industry that desperately needs innovation…As a dentist, I took an oath to help people, and offering top-notch dental care at an affordable price is how I want to do that. I should not be punished because I chose to get a specialty license.
I think Burris’s sense of duty to help low-income Arkansans is honorable and his comments are spot-on. Unfortunately for him — and the truly needy in northeast Arkansas — state government is seeking to prevent him from carrying out his mission.
Matt Miller works for IJ and is lead attorney on the Burris case. He told me the lawsuit represents a fight to expand access to health care:
This case is important because it will expand access to care by lowering the price of basic dental services. We will win by showing that it is irrational to prevent dental specialists — who are licensed dentists — from providing services that they are perfectly qualified to provide. This law exists to protect the pocketbooks of general dentists, and that simply isn’t a legitimate reason to regulate an occupation.
This case is a microcosm of the battle over the role of government in the lives of Arkansans. Unfortunately, it’s also a case study in the dangers of big government and the devastating impact of unchecked regulations that are created by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats (thankfully Arkansans have a chance to reign in some of this madness when they go to the ballot box this year). Here we have a dentist who is seeking to provide low-cost, potentially life-saving treatment to the people of northeast Arkansas, but government won’t let him? It’s almost too much to believe.
I’m grateful for the work of Dr. Burris and IJ, and I’m anxious to see how this case turns out. You can bet we’ll be chronicling it every step of the way.