Unbiased reporting about the consumers themselves.
It may be hard to believe, but patients all over the country are complaining that dentists aren’t asking them to pay their bills anymore.
For many years, consumers have taken advantage of dental practices’ good will by just “paying when they could” for their dental care. Unfortunately for many offices, this resulted in the expenses of staff time, mailing repeated statements, and simply writing off debts that were never paid.
Now that healthcare financing has come to the market, Consumer Reports (July 2008 issue) is pointing fingers at CareCredit, the Citi Health Card, Chase HealthAdvance, CapitalOne Healthcare Finance, and the dental providers themselves for allegedly taking advantage of the doctor-patient relationship.
There is no excuse for dentists who purportedly sign patients up for these programs while sedated, or otherwise abuse their patient’s credit for personal gain. Consumer Reports makes it seem like the American Dental Association itself condones this type of behavior. The purpose of healthcare financing is to benefit patients, dentists, and the participating banks. The article even affirms that the lenders take anywhere from 4.5% to 13.9% of the fees that are financed through their credit cards, which is much, much higher than traditional credit cards. Dentists pay these fees in order to give patients access to interest-free payments.
Most patients do pay off their balances within the interest-free period. Those 20 percent who do not were originally the kind that were most likely to show up in the dentists’ accounts-receivable column at the end of the year. Only now it is the banks who have accepted the burden, and because contracts are involved, so are consequences.
Is it really the dental equivalent of subprime mortgages?
Consumer Reports seems to think so. While not exactly an adjustable-rate mortgage, the default retroactive APR of 22.9% when a balance isn’t paid in full after 24 months is not news to anyone who reads the fine print on any typical credit card statement. The only money crisis in healthcare lending is that consumers are now being held accountable for their actions.
It is our culture that breeds the opinion that consumers deserve what they want, exactly when they want it, and it is this belief that is the underpinning of excessive consumer debt. Most patients want a perfect smile, but only the ones who don’t have the self-discipline to know whether or not they can even afford the payments are the ones getting snagged by the banks.
In defense of Consumer Reports, however, it does appear that some of the terms of the loan agreements are difficult to stomach, and it is agreed that some reform here would be beneficial to everyone involved.
Many consumers believe that teeth are more of a luxury than a life-and-death issue. Affirming this is the prosperity of quality dental practices which do not rely on insurance payments for their livelihood. And the bottom-line truth is that edentulism is not a risk factor for any other diseases, so it is not a liability to the overall health of a patient.
Dental insurance is a form of consumer entitlement, and healthcare financing is one strong step away from this dependency and expectation. Insurance justifies the acceptability of mediocre dentistry to the consumer. Perhaps the reality is that every dentist should move towards the model of providing excellent dental care at fees that will keep them in business, without taking advantage of those patients who need much more than just a good set of chompers in their lives.
Our prediction: haircare financing.