Column - Beware of some dental clinicsBeware of some dentists and dental clinics. I repeat the qualifying word “some,” because the vast majority of them, no doubt, are excellent.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
Beware of some dentists and dental clinics. I repeat the qualifying word “some,” because the vast majority of them, no doubt, are excellent.
Several times in recent months, I’ve heard from readers who have been misled or conned by dentists or their clinic staffs. It happened to me recently. One dentist told me my insurance wouldn’t cover dentures I need, just the extractions required. So I scraped up the $3,000 it would cost. In the meantime, someone told me to double-check with my insurance plan. And, sure enough, HealthPartners told me the dentures would be totally covered by one of its clinics, including the St. Cloud one.
That original dentist, not a member of HealthPartners, should have known and should have told me the dentures would be covered by HealthPartners. At the very least, he should have suggested I call my insurance company to check. If he didn’t purposely mislead me, he was certainly uninformed. I dread to think how many other patients he misinformed – intentionally or not.
The other example involves a woman named Mary, who lives in my neighborhood.
Needing dental work, Mary decided to get a medical credit card called “Care Credit Plan,” which offered a year-long no-interest deal. That card was advertised and recommended by the clinic she’d chosen.
Next, she called the clinic to ask if her medical-dental insurance would cover any of the procedures. The staff woman said she couldn’t find Mary’s file at the moment but that she was “sure” insurance would not cover any of it. Mary called her insurance company. Yes, her insurance plan would cover the root canals. Minutes later, Mary called the woman, who had “managed” to find her file. Mary told the woman she’d just called her insurance company, and right away the woman chimed in, “Why, yes, insurance will cover it, after all.” Surprise, surprise!
Dental Day came along. The dentist pulled a tooth, repaired another tooth and did two root canals. The bill was $5,500. The dentist recommended a list of other procedures, but Mary declined them, having sneaking suspicions the work was not as “urgent” or “necessary” as he claimed.
When Mary started getting bills in the mail from the credit-card company, she was flabbergasted at the bloated interest charges because she assumed there would be no interest for 12 months. She called the clinic woman, who told her the interest-free deal was out of her control, even though it was that same woman who had called Mary to say her Care Credit Plan, 12-month-interest-free, had been approved.
For three months, Mary paid the bill, for a total of $180 interest.
During that time, she kept calling the clinic, asking the woman to put the $1,030 insurance check toward the credit-card balance. At first, the woman denied receiving the check. Mary had to call the insurance company to verify the check had been sent. When she told the woman that, she finally said (surprise, surprise!) the check had been received, after all.
The woman said she couldn’t put that money on Mary’s credit card because she, Mary, was the only one with access to the card. Then the woman unreeled a long soft-shoe rigamarole, confusing as a torturous maze, that led Mary to believe the insurance money would just sort of “stay” on the clinic’s “ledger” so it could, perhaps, be applied to any future dental work. Or some convoluted reasoning along that line.
After three more phone calls, three more letters to the clinic, Mary, in no uncertain terms and with language that would scorch ear drums, threatened legal action.
“I want that insurance money put on my credit-card account NOW!” Mary screamed into the phone.
Two days later, the money was finally transferred to where it should have been months ago, before Mary got socked with $180 in interest payments due to flat-out incompetence or creative bookkeeping.
Mary said she had many sleepless nights and angry days because of the senseless tug of war. Typically, when someone wants to con you, they’ll dumbfound you first by insane complications that will make your head spin. Too many people just shrug and give up and give in. Not Mary!
Her advice? Ask doctors or dentists lots of pre-prepared questions before agreeing to anything. If the answers are hazy, complicated or not understandable in plain language, turn on your heels and run – not walk – out of that clinic.
Another tip: Always, always call your insurance company to find out what is covered and what is not. Do not take the word of the dentist or doctor. Yes, they may be honest but just uninformed; but then again, they might be crafty cons.
Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.