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Oversight groups reviewing recent trend of discount dental email offers

Mar 16, 2012

There are anywhere from 45 million to 100 million Americans without dental coverage, depending upon which poll you read. As a result many people without coverage have eagerly been taking advantage of online promotions offering low-cost dental exams, x-rays, and cleanings at discounts ranging from 50% or more.

Online coupon groups like Groupon, Living Social and KGB Deals email a wide assortment of specials to their members’ inboxes every day,  including discounts on dental services. State dental associations and others like the New York State Office of Professions appear interested because of how the companies sponsoring the promotions may be getting paid.

In most states it is illegal for licensed healthcare professionals, especially doctors and dentists, from splitting their fees with a third party.  In other words, a dentist could not offer an online coupon provider like Groupon money in exchange for sending them a specific number of patients.  This might be considered fee-splitting, and fee-splitting is illegal in most every state.

Fee-splitting was created decades ago to protect patients from doctors paying other doctors for referrals. The goal was to discourage doctors from referring patients to another doctor, or a third party paying for the privilege, rather than to the doctor that offered the patient the best treatment needed.

Could the payment arrangement between a dentist and an online coupon provider be considered fee-splitting? Some authorities think so and that is the concern. For example, if Dentist Smith is paying Groupon 30 percent, or $30, for every $100 dental exam and is keeping the rest, is this fee-splitting with a third-party?

The same fee-splitting laws apply to advertising, or online coupon companies. Dentists and doctors can advertise only if they pay a flat fee per ad, not a certain amount or percentage per patient.

Presently none of the online coupon retailers have been charged of violating any law. If it is determined that a violation has occurred, lawyers have said the participating dentist would be held liable and could have their license suspended or revoked and face a punitive fine.

Sources: Cosmetic Dentistry Guide UK, WABC-TV

Copyright 2012, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC ©

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