Cosmetic Dentist Gives Patients Alternative to Traditional Insurance

October 6, 2016
Ed Rabinowitz

A Manhattan dentist joined the profession to change peoples' lives. Now he's working on changing the payment model for oral healthcare.

When you grow up surrounded by oral health professionals, it’s not surprising when the success they’ve experienced and their enthusiasm for their careers rubs off.

That’s the case for Jeffrey Rappaport, a cosmetic dentist, whose father is a dentist and whose uncle is an orthodontist.

“I’ve always been around dentistry, and my father was happy, so it just seemed like a good fit,” Rappaport says.

But Rappaport, together with his wife and partner, Michelle Katz, a board-certified orthodontist, has taken his avocation to another level that is impacting not only patients, but other dentists as well.

Two-step Strategy

Rappaport noticed that dentistry was moving from treatment to prevention. Dentists were doing “a great job” promoting how to prevent cavities and gum disease. But what was perhaps overlooked was patients wanted to have their teeth cleaned several times a year, which could prove costly.

“My wife and I really wanted to open a business that was able to provide affordable cleanings for people,” Rapport explains.

They opened

Lavaan

, a New York City-based dental spa that specializes in providing dental cleaning, whitening and straightening services in a relaxing, spa-like environment. But that’s not all they did.

The Lavaan model, Rappaport explains, was designed to get people through the door for high quality service with affordable pricing. And when services were needed outside the scope of their practice, patients were referred through a network of dentists throughout Manhattan.

“But what we were finding is that most of our patients did not have insurance,” Rappaport says. “And when they were going to the dentist it would be expensive. So we wanted to come up with a better system. We wanted to give patients affordable pricing for the services they needed, and fair pricing for anything needed outside of that.”

Rappaport and his wife developed a plan where patients would receive cleanings at Lavaan, x-rays and exams at a dentist’s office, and a set fee schedule for all other services. And over several years, the plan grew.

“It was becoming too big to handle in-house,” he says. “So we decided that we wanted to serve more people and reach a wider audience.”

That’s when

Afora

was born.

An Insurance Alternative

Rappaport and his wife recently launched Afora, a premier dental care membership plan that offers members access to an extensive network of trusted providers who charge a flat fee for services from cleanings to implants.

“We’ve been keeping close notes over the past few years any time someone would mention [an oral health professional] they were happy with,” he says. “We tested it out with maybe 10 to 15 dentists around the city, and in the last couple of months we’ve grown the network significantly.”

Getting dental professionals to agree on a fee schedule can be challenging, but Rappaport says he operated under the principle of getting input from people he trusts. He met with general practitioners throughout Manhattan, and for about two years tested the plan to see how it would be received.

“We got member feedback,” he says. “We got provider feedback. And we decided on a fee schedule that we believe is right for this market; for general dentistry now. And we’re in the final stages of putting together a specialist fee schedule.”

And, Rappaport adds, the financial benefits for dentists are significant. Patients are able to save as much as a third of the cost for the highest quality network of dental professionals and care.

“Our fee schedule is in line with the best paying dental insurance plans out there,” he says. “The only difference being you’re not dealing with a third party. You’re not dealing with maximums, and you’re not dealing with co-payments. The money is coming directly from the patient to the dentist. So we’re just setting up that relationship.”

In other words, transparency.

“Members can feel confident that if they’re seeing any dentist on the plan, the price is going to be exactly the same for the same service,” Rappaport says. “It takes the pricing consideration out of it, and you can build a nice relationship with your dentist.”

Giving Back

Rappaport attended New York University’s School of Dentistry, which is where he met his wife. It’s also where he got his first taste of volunteering in Nicaragua.

“It was an outreach program started by a close friend of ours,” he explains. “We were lucky enough to be part of that first trip.”

The trips proved to be great learning experiences, as well as an opportunity to treat underprivileged people who, in some cases, had never seen a dentist.

“It was a good feeling at the end of every day to know that I saw X number of patients that today, and that I really made a difference,” Rappaport says. “And the sincerity from people who were truly thankful that you were able to provide services. That was a good feeling.”

Away from the practice of dentistry and running Afora, Rappaport is all about family. He spends time with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, and also enjoys running, skiing, and spending time at the beach.

“We’re lucky enough, on both sides, to have a big family, and everybody’s relatively close,” he says. “We spend a lot of time with them.”

What’s most rewarding? Rappaport says it’s all about taking someone who’s had a poor dental experience, for whatever reason, and getting them motivated to take care of themselves and actually look forward to coming to the dentist.

“Changing someone’s perspective of the dentist,” he says, “That’s been pretty rewarding.”

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