July 15, 2024

Bucks: Comparison Shopping for Discounted Dental Care

Most of us don’t look forward to visiting the dentist, despite attempts to woo us with free toothbrushes. But a new Web site aims to at least take some of the pain out of the paying the bill.

Brighter.com, a Santa Monica, Calif., start-up created by the Internet entrepreneur Jake Winebaum, offers discounted dental care from a network of 25,000 dentists, searchable by ZIP code and procedure.

“Half of the population is uninsured for dentistry,” Mr. Winebaum said, explaining the site’s rationale. “They have no idea of what things are going to cost them, until after they’ve been sitting in the dentist chair.” Older Americans and children, in particular, need dental care but often lack insurance, he said.

If you join and pay a fee of $79 per year, Brighter’s pitch goes, you’ll get a discount of up to 60 percent of what you’d otherwise pay at participating dentists. (The discounted rate, Mr. Winebaum said, approximates what dentists are paid by insurers, when they treat covered patients). If you register but don’t pay the annual fee, you’ll get a smaller discount, of 20 to 30 percent. Even if you don’t register, you can search free for a given procedure and see what the going rate is in your area, so you have a ballpark figure of what you might pay.

The 25,000 Brighter dentists are part of a discount network created by Careington International Corporation, a Frisco, Tex., company that negotiates contractual rates with groups of dentists and other health providers for employers, nonprofit groups, unions and professional associations. (If you register at Brighter.com, you’ll get a membership card bearing both the Brighter and Careington logos. A call to Careington wasn’t immediately returned.) But Brighter.com has added general market price data, gleaned from private surveys, and combined the information on a user-friendly Web site. The site also includes basic information about 75,000 more dentists — most of the remaining dentists practicing in the country — who don’t belong to the Brighter network.

Participating dentists are located across the nation, with concentrations in metropolitan areas. A search by my ZIP code in northwest Arkansas, for instance, turned up no offices offering discounts. But a search for treatment for a cavity in the 10017 area code in Midtown Manhattan spit back numerous dentists, several of whom would do the job for $102 — roughly $200 less than the typical rate for the area, the site says. The results are thinner if you live in, say, Atlanta. You type in a ZIP code — 30308 covers much of downtown — and select the procedure you want. Up pops a list of 105 dentists, four of whom offer the network discount. The typical cost of a checkup in that area is around $142, the results say, but one dentist offers the service to Brighter members for just $43 — a savings of $72.

But don’t you want to know if the dentist, besides being affordable and conveniently located, is any good? The site integrates some provider reviews from Yelp.com, which has been criticized for being unreliable. Brighter encourages its users to add their own reviews and opinions, to make that feature more robust.

The service isn’t yet available in three states: Florida, Montana and Vermont. Brighter’s service isn’t considered insurance because the dentists are paid directly by the patient, not by Brighter, but some states still require lengthy regulatory review, Mr. Winebaum said.

So why isn’t something similar available for other types of health care — say, knee surgery? It’s possible a similar model may eventually be feasible for certain preventive or elective services, Mr. Winebaum said. But medical care is, in general, much more complex than dental care, in that the provider sending the bill, the dentist, is usually the one who performed the service. Contrast that with surgery in a hospital setting. You’ll get billed not only by the surgeon, but also by the hospital, the anesthesiologist, the physical therapist and possibly even the pharmacist. So coming up with a simple menu of fees is much more difficult.

Still, additional clarity on dental services is a start, he said. Brighter can also be used to supplement your existing dental insurance, helping pay for cosmetic services or orthodontics, which aren’t typically covered.

If you try using Brighter.com, let us know about your experience.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=90cd26b67c0a71f964f7bf36ae4dd355

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