Delta Dental trims payments to dentists

Brad Iverson-Long//September 28, 2011

Delta Dental trims payments to dentists

Brad Iverson-Long//September 28, 2011

Hundreds of Idaho dentists will see fees from one Delta Dental of Idaho plan cut by an average 8 percent in November.

The insurance company, which is the market leader in the state, hopes the savings will spur more employers to pick up dental insurance.

Delta Dental will lower dentists’ fee reimbursements in its lower cost Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan. “By making these changes to our discount product, we can help make sure that dental benefits remain affordable,” said Jean De Luca, the CEO and president of Delta Dental of Idaho. “We like every other organization need to find way to cut costs.”

Leaders of the Idaho State Dental Association (ISDA), which represents dentists, are criticizing the cut. ISDA Executive Director Tami Chafin says Delta Dental is caving to employers who want lower insurance premiums and is shifting the costs onto dentists. “It’s coming out of the dentists’ pocket,” she said.

ISDA President Gregory Bengston, who works in Lewiston, said the lower fees will prompt dentists to hire fewer staff, increase the fees for uninsured patients and cut the number of charity cases they see.

“It’s reasonable to conclude that there will be a loss of jobs as a result of this,” Bengston said. He compared the negotiations between Delta Dental and the ISDA to David v. Goliath, casting dentists as small business owners whose profits are affected by the insurance company’s decisions.

The ISDA and Delta Dental disagree over how many dentists the fee change will affect. The ISDA issued a news release saying it will affect 825 dentists in Idaho, while Delta said it is 649. Chafin said she wasn’t trying to inflate the numbers.

The fee reductions vary across the state. Chafin said Southeast Idaho dentists will see a 13 percent reduction, southwest Idaho dentists a 6 percent reduction and north Idaho dentists a 4 percent reduction.

The new reimbursement rates start for dentists on Nov. 1. Chafin said the ISDA asked Delta Dental to consider delaying the changes until January 2012. “They said no,” she said.

De Luca said that 44 percent of Idaho adults don’t have dental insurance.