By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
New WDA president: Increasing access to dental care
MADISON - After years of charity work for patients and service to his profession, Brodhead dentist Dr. Julio Rodriguez was sworn as president of the Wisconsin Dental Association.

Rodriguez climbed the leadership ladder at the 3,200-member WDA serving as a trustee, its vice president and president-elect before taking the top spot Nov. 16.

His charity work as a dentist includes involvement in the WDA's Mission of Mercy, which has donated $4.6 million of dental services since 2009. He is also a director of the Fowler Free Dental Clinic in Monroe, which has provided millions of dollars of free care during the past several years.

"On average dentists contribute $10,000 per year in charitable practice," Rodriguez said. "That means, 1,500 Wisconsin dentists contribute $15 million a year to patients in the state who wouldn't otherwise get that care."

Dentists also end up contributing their time due to Medicaid's low reimbursement rate, which is less than 38 cents on the dollar, he said.

"In Green County, I'm the only dentist taking Medicaid patients," he said. "I can understand others who don't. Who can stay in business when reimbursement rates are so low and you can't write that off?"

Just increasing the reimbursement rate to the 75th percentile, Rodriguez said, would "take care of the problem," and allow more dentists to perform work for Medicaid patients.

"The biggest issue is not enough money. Dental care amounts to less than 1 cent per Medicaid dollar. Just another penny (per dollar) would make it work," he said.

Rodriguez also chairs the Green County Health Department's Advisory Board.

He holds many fellowship positions in his profession and earlier this year was named Distinguished Deputy Regent Director for the International College of Dentistry and became a Melvin Jones Fellow for his contributions to the Lion's Club.

A native of Peru, Rodriguez first got acquainted with Brodhead as a high school exchange student in 1966. He returned to Peru, finished high school and joined the Peruvian Air Force. He met his future wife, Marissa, and they both attended pre-med school.

He and Marissa both graduated from dental school. After they were married, Marissa was diagnosed with cancer and needed treatment in the U.S. Rodriguez became an attaché to the Peruvian embassy in Washington, D.C. and Marissa received medical treatment.

During that time Rodriguez said he rekindled old friendships in Wisconsin but returned to Peru when Marissa's health improved. They subsequently returned to the U.S. when she needed more cancer treatment.

Marissa's health returned and Rodriguez eventually resigned from the Peruvian Air Force. They decided to stay in the U.S. and Rodriguez relocated to southern Wisconsin, working a number of jobs, including at the former Huber Brewery in Monroe while he studied for his dental license exam.

After obtaining a dentistry license in 1982, Rodriguez went to work at a Janesville dental clinic. He later opened his own practice in Brodhead and got involved in the WDA.

As WDA president, Rodriguez said he wants to continue initiatives that increase access to dental care to low-income individuals. However, an economy still in recovery makes that task tougher, he said.

"Fewer people are coming into dentists' offices for treatment than before. They don't have the money," he said.

Whether the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will be the solution to increasing access to dental care remains at best an open question, he said.

"Right now, it's creating lots of changes but there are more questions than answers as to how it will work. ... Currently, there's only one company offering dental care through the (federal) health exchange.

"We're concerned as an association. We're trying to stay on top of all the changes, but the more we think we know, the more we find out that we don't know," he said.

Still, as president of the WDA, Rodriguez said the association will work to bring dental care to those who need it but can't afford it.