Letter to the Editor

Dental insurers should stop meddling

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

To the Editor:

Some dental insurers are changing the way they pay dental benefit claims, creating confusion and erecting barriers to care for thousands of Hoosiers.

The issue, called Assignment of Benefits, traditionally has worked well for dentists and patients. Through a signature on their insurance forms, patients request insurance companies send payment for their treatment directly to the doctor, who then bills the patient for any remaining balance. This arrangement customarily has allowed dental providers to float the cost of a patient's treatment until insurance payments arrive, which can take weeks or even months.

Now, some dental insurers have decided not to honor patients' wishes if the doctor does not belong to the insurance company's preferred provider organization (PPO). Instead, as a means of pressuring doctors to join their networks, some insurers are sending benefits to the patient's home, knowing that these payments may never reach the dentist.

For patients not expecting an insurance check, it's confusing when it arrives in the mail. Thinking it's a refund check; they may cash it, and not realize the dental bill is outstanding. For those who do forward the check to their dentist, it's just another hassle they don't need.

Dentists are small business owners with staff salaries and overhead. If dentists are unsure that insurance companies will cover their claims, they may need to ask patients to pay up-front for treatment, which causes hardships for many and presents a barrier to care.

The Indiana Dental Association believes insurance companies should stop meddling in the relationship between patients and their dentists. Two bills currently before the Indiana General Assembly, SB 75 sponsored by Sen. Beverly Gard (R-Greenfield) and HB 1299 sponsored by Rep. Peggy Welch (D-Bloomington), would protect patients' rights to decide who receives their insurance benefits. We invite the public to contact lawmakers to support SB 75 and HB 1299 and join more than 40,000 Hoosiers who have signed our petition, both in dental offices across the state and online at www.supportpatientrights.com.

Mark R. Stetzel, D.D.S., President

Indiana Dental Association

John Hennette, D.D.S., IDA Member, Greencastle