Health care financing options can help patients navigate unplanned dental expenses

September 10, 2015

Health care credit cards can be used for a variety of expenses, including dentistry. However, many consumers don't understand their options or how they work.

 

Health care credit cards can be used for a variety of expenses, including dentistry.

However, many consumers don't understand their options or how they work.

More than half of consumers surveyed in a recent CareCredit study paid for care with a credit-based product (33 percent used a general purpose credit card, 13 percent used a medical credit card and 12 percent used provider financing to pay for procedures). However, about 70 percent were unaware financing is available through a health care credit card and more than half were unhappy with the payment options available to them.

"Although CareCredit has been available in the dental segment since 1987, many patients learn about CareCredit health care card primarily while they are in the practice through materials provided by the dental team," says Cindy Hearn, senior vice president, branding and communications, CareCredit. "It’s important for patients to be aware of accepted payment options through every interaction with the practice."

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Study findings also underscore this need, as 32 percent of patients said they would be very likely to apply for or use CareCredit financing for care or procedures as low as $200. That percentage increases to 49 percent for care or procedures of $1,000.

Lois Banta, a dental consultant and CEO of Banta Consulting, Inc., says there is a lack of awareness and training for both dentists and their team members about financing.

"Many make presumptions about financing, such as processing fee charges, and don't have the correct information," she says. "They form an opinion that is not based on the whole truth. If you create a thought process of offering patient financing as the cost of doing business, and adjust your fees so it is an overall part of your overhead, there is no additional cost. You can keep the cost to a level that works for your budget. And the fees vary depending on the type and length of financing." 

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When making decisions on dental procedures, the survey found consumers take, on average, 70 days to conduct research, and the average amount spent was $1,177.00. Fifty-eight percent researched the procedure and 67 percent researched finances.

In addition, 70 percent of respondents sought information offline, while 50 percent went online and 40 percent gathered information from family and friends.

However, patients should receive this information at the source: the dentist's office.

"Patients listen two different ways: with their eyes and ears," Banta says. "Promote that knowledge and information visually and audibly. Have signs that say, 'Ask us about our flexible payment options' with the CareCredit logo. Have information, such as brochures, readily available. And verbally create awareness. You can use a health care credit card for other expenses, such as the eye doctor, chiropractor or plastic surgeon. This frees up their other credit cards for personal spending."

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Hearn says to be prepared to answer two key questions: “Should I get this care?” and “Can I pay for this care?” 

"The first question relates specifically to the patients’ clinical need, the recommendation of the provider and the value the patient perceives in that recommendation," she says. "The second question focuses on cost and payment options that enable them to get the care they desire without delay."

The study found 47 percent of noncardholders would consider financing if it enabled them to get care immediately.  For many patients, it may not be the total cost of care that is the concern; it is fitting payments into their family’s lifestyle and household budget, Hearn says.

"Our experience is that when dental teams present the cost of care along with all payment options (cash, check, debit card, health care financing and provider-based financing), and include the estimated monthly payments with CareCredit, it helps patients focus more on the value of care," she says.

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In addition, all payment options should be shared with patients as early in the conversation as possible, Hearn says.

"This helps patients plan their care and set financial expectations," she says. "We recommend all payment options be included in a written financial policy and that patient education information on financing with CareCredit be given to new patients at the beginning of the relationship with the practice, placed in the reception area and be available where financial conversations happen in the practice."

Twenty-four percent of patients in the study searched online for information, which means providers should also include payment option information on their web and social media sites, Hearn says.

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"Dental teams across the country have told us when they consistently and proactively introduce CareCredit, it makes for a better patient experience," she says. "Patients may not ask about financing or payment options; they may just delay or decline care. The study found that of the respondents who previously used CareCredit, 29 percent would have found another provider who accepted CareCredit and 39 percent would have not had the dentistry performed had this payment option not been available."

Of health care credit cardholders, 90 percent say they feel financing is a tool to help them prepare for unplanned health expenses, and 47 percent say they would not have made the purchase or would have sought another provider if financing was not available. In addition, nearly 80 percent said financing makes it easier to budget for their healthcare purchase.

"Our cardholders tell us they like having a credit card specifically for health, wellness and beauty needs, and we also see that existing cardholders use the card repeatedly as credit becomes available and as long as they remain in good standing as a cardholder," Hearn says. "Seventy-five percent of CareCredit cardholders are likely or very likely to use their CareCredit health, wellness and beauty card again."

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Banta says she recommends practices promote health care credit card options because they help patients fit dentistry into their budgets, a win-win for both the practice and the patient.

"It's all about facilitating knowledge," she says. "Educating both your front-office staff on how to present the information and patients on the availability of options helps the patient receive the best quality care without the barrier of inflexible financial arrangements."

The study was conducted by Rothstein Tauber, Inc., on behalf of CareCredit, and included an online survey of nearly 2,000 consumers who had made an elective health care purchase in the past 12 months or who were likely to make an elective health care purchase in the next 12 months.

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