A new dentist referral service has launched, Brighter.com using social networking and promotes bringing price discounts to patients.
In 2000, the U.S. Surgeon General called out dental health as a "silent epidemic" that afflicts poorer population groups even more disproportionately than the health care divide. Yet in the 10 years since, as the debate over medical insurance has intensified, little attention has been paid to the costs of dental care.I have seen these start-ups before and various referral dentist referral services (some with discounted insurance plans) have come and gone over the years. One of the first 1-800 Dentist continues to exist today, although their model is paid by participating dentists and not the patients.
If you're not covered by a dental plan of some sort, you're going to pay a lot more than you need to for almost any procedure. That's because most dental insurance plans that pay dentists are based on discounts from the retail prices of the procedures they do. So dentists set retail prices rather high, and have to charge some patients those fees.
But you can get the lower negotiated rates yourself, even if you don't have insurance. As it turns out, large "cost containment networks" exist that organizations and individuals can sign up for. Some unions and state governments use Careington, for example, which has negotiated discount rates with about a quarter of the dentists in the U.S.
A start-up launching today, Brighter.com, takes the Careington network and offers both paid and free subscriptions to it for individuals. The site packages the discounts alongside Webbish tools to make finding dentists easier, too. If you don't have a dental plan (or a dentist), it appears to be a no-brainer to use--the free version at least.
Brighter is not insurance, mind you. The consumer-patient has to make his own decisions about the procedures he's going to buy, and has to pay the dentist directly. Being a member of Brighter grants the consumer a discount off retail prices; Brighter doesn't pay the dentists itself.
Brighter gives a worthwhile discount to any user for just signing up for the system, up to 30 percent. Family plans, at $79 a year, entitle the subscriber and dependents to more, up to 60 percent discounts off retail prices on some procedures. Business plans cost $49 a year per employee.
Frankly, I do not see any advantage to private practice dentists to become a participating dentist. Why discount your fees to patients ONLY looking for a price bargain and whom you may never see again?
Also, why participate in an online marketing, referral scheme (with someone else making the subscription fees) while you can advertise discounts on your own practice sites and Facebook?
Then, there are the age-old issues of "bait and switch," additional add on services which are not covered, cost shifting to patients who have dental insurance and collection.