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  • November 8, 2018

Dental insurance: Is there a better alternative?

front_desk-nov2018

Insurance: It’s a sure conversation (or column) stopper.

But you surely recognize that dentistry is wrapped up in insurance logistics as is the rest of the health care field. Additionally, it plays a key role for your patients, in ways good and bad.

While it’s probable your practice accepts insurance, consider seeing it through the eyes of your patient. A survey of dental patients by Futuredontics showed that availability of insurance acceptance is “the number one factor” prospective patients consider when selecting a dentist. Further, the study found that 42 percent of patients say they’d switch dentists if their plan was dropped.

Setting aside some patients who may qualify for Medicaid (which in Illinois uses adult dental care as a ping pong ball), the American Dental Association says a bit more than 33 percent of Americans – some 74 million -- lack dental insurance. That leaves them with three options:

  • Pay cash
  • Purchase dental insurance individually
  • Skip dental care entirely

A surprisingly large number of people go with option 3, which any oral health care professional recognizes as unwise. The best chance to head off serious – and expensive – treatment as well as related health complications is through regular checkups.

Would it benefit your patients and your practice to take a more expansive view of payment and insurance options? Is your staff versed in helping patients find financial answers for dental care, in your office or beyond?

With surveys showing that Boomer, Millennials and Gen Xers demanding more access to information from their health care providers, a first step is to see that your practice has a webpage that spells out payment options, including what insurance is accepted and any other accepted means to pay.

Some practices are exploring new avenues, including “membership plans” and acceptance of “discount” cards.

Dave Monahan has been making a splash with Kleer, a fee-for-service web platform that dentists can customize with their own fee schedule and subscription price. A Microsoft veteran, Mr. Monahan dipped into the heath care field with FitLinxx, a FitBit-like product for patients and athletes that monitors and shares medical information and performance with their doctors.

Mr. Monahan set his sights next on the dental industry with Kleer, where he fashioned a cloud-based program that lets dentists offer comprehensive coverage to their fee-for-service patients “without the cost and hassle of a middleman.” Patients pay a monthly fee, starting at $25 per month, for basic visits and cleanings and discounts on other services. Kleer can provide more services for dentists, such as marketing and communication support, for additional fees.

Another option is the discount card. Dentists must first agree to participate in the card program – there are several – and accept the reduced fee set by the card plan. Depending on the card, patients can pay monthly or an annual fee – for individual or family coverage -- and show their card at the dentist’s office. Patients would receive a discount on services and pay cash for the difference. This approach also seeks to remove the insurance middleman.

These payment options require careful study to see if they would be a good fit, but it’s a changing world out there where patients increasingly want to set the rules for engagement with their health care providers, rather than accept them. Dentists may want to get in front of the changes before the new rules leave them out of the game.


The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society.

CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing issues facing dentists and staff members experience in the office.

Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist.

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Photo by courtneyk/istockphoto.com.