Infection control is hardly a new concept in the dental industry. More than 20 year ago, it was reported that the dental industry spent nearly $5 billion annually on infection control measures such as additional handpieces, masks, gloves, eye protection, staff time and training, waste disposal, sterilizing technology, and more.
Now, two decades later, those costs have risen significantly, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dentists have long sought to “control the cost of dental treatment to the public,” according to R.A Clappison, DDS, but may not be able to shield patients from those extra costs with strict coronavirus-related regulations.
Why Dentists Are Charging New Fees
Dentists face a unique challenge in the age of the coronavirus. Though they were forced to shut down and lose months worth of revenue, the only way to successfully reopen involves costly investments in infection control measures and PPE equipment.
Michael Scilabba, DDS, of Great Hill Dental Partners, wrote in April, “I have talked with many dental providers over the past few weeks. The consensus is that we all want to offer these luxuries for safety and the confidence of our patients and staff members, but it comes with a cost.” A steep cost of $8,000-$10,000 per operatory, according to Scilabba.
This may explain why many dentists feel they have no choice but to charge patients an extra fee to cover the cost of masks, face shields, gowns, air purifiers, and other infection control resources. Dental practices required by CDC and ADA guidelines to pay all costs of implementing comprehensive infection control, but they must afford those costs while seeing fewer patients each day.
“The infection control fee is helping us mitigate the costs of the extra expenses,” Scilabba explained. Some offices are charging an extra $10, while others now tack on $20 or $25 to each patient’s bill.
The good news, at least, is that some insurance companies have agreed to reimburse extra fees for COVID-related infection control. United Concordia, which insures 9 million members nationwide, agreed to pay dentists $10 per fully insured patient per visit through May and June to offset the cost of PPE equipment.
As one dental chain explained, “We are not making money off this. This is just to sustain us so we are not bleeding out cash.”
A New CDT Code to Bill for Infection Control Fees?
Scialabba believes the issue of infection control costs can be resolved with a new billing code. “There is not a better time than now for insurance payors and dental providers to come together and support each other,” he wrote.
If dentists can confidently mitigate infection control costs by billing for additional expenses, he says, the process will run smoothly and allow patients, dentists, and insurance companies to successfully navigate the rough waters of this COVID-19 era.