EVERETT – Dr Kale Eckland has had plenty of time this spring – and a small circle of consultants – to consider his next business move.
Eckland and his two older brothers are dentists. When Governor Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order went into effect on March 13, they found themselves with more time than teeth.
Dental services, with the exception of emergency procedures, have been suspended.
Eckland has temporarily closed the Everett dental clinic which he has run since 2011. His brothers, Dr Keagan Eckland and Dr Colby Eckland, have closed their respective clinics in Woodinville and Redmond.
“We have had the opportunity to speak very candidly about our businesses,” said Kale Eckland.
And when the brothers, who live within a mile of each other, needed more advice, they turned to their father, Dr Daryl Eckland. You guessed it – a dentist from Woodinville.
“We spent probably eight to 14 hours a day in someone’s office or at someone’s house, every day,” Eckland said of the dental stop, which lasted for nine weeks.
One deeply disturbing trend they saw unfolding was the staggering rise in the state’s unemployment rate.
From March to April, Washington’s unemployment rate rose from 5.1% to an astounding 15.4%.
These job losses meant thousands of workers and their families were at risk of losing medical and dental coverage, Eckland said.
Of two-thirds of Americans – about 173 million – with private dental coverage, most are insured through an employer or group plan, according to the National Association of Dental Plans.
The Ecklands hoped to create a safety net for patients who may have lost their jobs and dental coverage.
One idea the brothers kept coming back to was to create a dental practice subscription that could stand alone or supplement dental insurance. Subscribers pay the doctor directly under these plans.
“Membership plans are nothing new,” said Kale Eckland. “They’ve been around for a while. ”
The Ecklands are among a growing number of practitioners who offer in-office dental membership plans.
Direct payment plans are becoming more common, according to the American Dental Association.
For people who have lost their jobs and their dental insurance, it’s an alternative to buying dental insurance or going without it, Eckland said.
Benefits to dental clinics can include a more reliable revenue stream and higher patient retention rates, according to DentistryIQ, a trade publication.
The Ecklands calculated the numbers – Kale Eckland’s undergraduate degree is in economics – and offered an in-house dental plan for around $ 70 a month.
The aim “is to prioritize preventative care and ensure that the price is not prohibitive,” Eckland said. “We thought $ 60 to $ 70 a month is a pretty good number. ”
When they were allowed to return to work in May, the Ecklands implemented their membership plan, which is honored by the three dental clinics they operate.
The standard adult package costs $ 69 per month and includes two annual visits, teeth cleaning, and x-rays. It also offers a 15% discount on any treatment, Eckland said.
A higher frequency plan for patients with gum disease costs $ 123 per month and covers four annual visits. A plan for children up to 12 costs $ 59 per month.
“Our first registrants registered in July. We added to it every month, ”Eckland said.
How do in-office plans compare to regular dental insurance or direct payment for dental services?
The Dental Plans Association does not compile data on in-office plans. The American Dental Association says this is another option to consider.
For people who don’t have dental insurance or don’t like the dental coverage offered by their employer, direct payment plans may be an alternative, Eckland said.
Such plans are also an option for people aged 65 and over who want dental coverage. Remember that Medicare does not cover dental care.
Other options include seeking treatment at a dental school such as the University of Washington School of Dentistry.
Start by looking at your budget and your dental needs, experts advise.
One thing to note is the difference between health coverage and dental coverage: health insurance is meant to help protect against costly medical bills. In contrast, most dental insurance plans only cover “preventative care and basic procedures, such as cleanings and fillings,” according to a guide to buying dental coverage.
Consumers who are considering opting for an in-house dental plan should note the types of treatments that are covered and what type of discounts to expect on treatments that are not covered by the plan.
The same goes for comparing dental insurance plans. Pay attention to premiums, deductibles, and the annual maximum, and also note the waiting times for coverage to take effect.
Janice Podsada; [email protected]; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods