Dental Membership Programs Benefit Practices, Patients

April 25, 2018
Ed Rabinowitz

Dental membership programs are not concierge medicine. With the latter, primary care physicians limit their practice to focusing on a few hundred up to perhaps 1,000 patients. Dentists, however, can offer membership programs to all their patients in addition to, or in place of costly dental insurance that might not afford patients proper coverage. These programs can help dentists grow their practice while increasing revenue.

Uninsured patient accepts about four procedures a year whereas a membership plan or insured patient will accept about seven procedures.

Dentists are always looking for ways to make dental care more affordable for their patients, while keeping them compliant in their dental care.

Similarly, patients are tired of paying sizeable insurance premiums that often don't provide the critical coverage they and their families need.

What’s the answer? Maureen Uy, managing partner at Uy Communications, and a member of the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants recommends a dental membership program with tiered coverage that meets patients’ specific dental needs.

“[A dental membership program] helps the dentist aid his patients in preventing dental emergencies or planning out long-term dental care objectives,” Uy says.

And these plans are increasing in popularity. According to Dave Monahan, CEO of Kleer, a cloud-based platform that enables dentists to design and manage their own membership plan, approximately 80 percent of all dental practices are currently considering membership plans.

WHY MEMBERSHIP PLANS?

Monahan says one of the driving factors in the adoption of dental membership plans has been the desire to deal as little as possible with insurance.

“[Insurance is] less and less profitable, there are more restrictions, and reimbursements are not getting any better,” Monahan says.

Then there’s the uninsured patient factor. Monahan says that roughly 40 percent of all consumers in the U.S. do not have dental insurance. On average, those uninsured patients visit the dentist about once every two years compared with the insured patient who comes in approximately 1.3 times each year.

“And when you look at the data, what you see in the uninsured patient base is that they accept about one-third of the treatment plans compared to insured patients,” he explains. “But if you talk to the uninsured patient you learn they want more treatment. They want to buy a dental plan, but they’ve looked at insurance and decided it’s too complicated and too expensive. They don’t think there’s a solution available for them.”

That’s where dental membership plans come in.

According to Uy, “For a varying but modest amount of $125-$300 per year, dentists can offer these programs and show the savings in time and money while demonstrating an increase in better outcomes.”

NUMBERS GAME

Monahan has compared the numbers from various dental practices, looking at uninsured patients versus insured versus membership plan patients—what treatment do they accept, and what value are they to the dental practice. He found that an uninsured patient accepts about four procedures a year whereas a membership plan or insured patient will accept about seven procedures.

“It’s roughly 50 percent higher treatment acceptance if you’re an insured or membership plan patient,” he says.

Consider the perspective of the patient who buys into a membership plan. He or she pays a monthly subscription fee of approximately $25. For that, he receives cleanings, exams and x-rays, plus a discount on other procedures. There’s no deductible, no annual maximum and no pre-approval.

“That’s a much better deal for the uninsured patient than insurance,” Monahan says.

It’s also a much better deal for the practice. If a patient purchased insurance, the premium goes to the insurer. The subscription paid by patients goes directly to the practice, whether the patient visits the practice or not. But Monahan says it’s a shortsighted gain to take the subscription money and hope patients don’t come in.

“Get them in, get them in the chair, and when they’re in the chair, if they have a membership plan, they accept 50 percent more treatment than without the plan,” Monahan says. “And with a membership plan, you set the fee schedule, not the insurance company. So, the membership plan patient is worth about 30 to 40 percent more than an insured patient.”

EVERYONE BENEFITS

In the past, setting up and maintaining a membership program was challenging because it was typically paper-based. Today, with platforms such as the one created by Kleer, dentists can easily set their subscription options and in about 15 minutes launch a membership plan. A portal makes it easy to manage patients, and a 12-month auto-renewal feature enables staff to function more efficiently.

“They can focus on the practice and on the patients versus the membership plan,” Monahan says.

In addition, Uy says, membership plans enable the practice to identify and create loyal patients.

“I encourage all dental practices to consider implementing this type of program,” she says, “because it truly helps grow your patient base and attract the large market of patients who do not have dental insurance.”

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