Does licensing increase prices for dentists?

Clearly the answer is yes. For many basic tasks, dentists and dental hygenists may perform task of similar quality. However, in some states, dental hygenists are not allowed to perform these tasks. A paper by Wing and Marier find the following:

United States, occupational regulations influence the work tasks that may legally be performed by dentists and dental hygienists. Only a dentist may legally perform most dental procedures; however, a smaller list of basic procedures may be provided by either a dentist or a dental hygienist. Since dentists and hygienists possess different levels of training and skill and receive very different wages, it is plausible that these regulations could distort the optimal allocation of skills to work tasks…Our empirical analysis exploits variation across states and over time in the list of services that may be provided by either type of worker. Our main results suggest that the task-specific occupational regulations increase prices by about 12%…We [also] find that allowing insurers to directly reimburse hygienists for their work increases one year utilization rates by 3–4 percentage points.

Would you be willing to pay 12% more for a dental cleaning from a dentist compared to a dental hygenists? The answer may be no, or may be yes. The individual, rather than the government, however, should be making this decision. Certifying individuals as dentists or dental hygenists provides information to consumers that can impact market prices. However, restricting the scope of services provided increases prices by restricting supply. Further, requiring patients to see a dentist rather than a dental hygenist likely hurts poor individuals who need dental care the most.

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