New Safety Requirements Could Increase Patient Costs

The proactive response made to help flatten the COVID-19 curve and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) has impacted the healthcare economy in profound ways, especially to the dental industry.

On March 16, 2020, the American Dental Association (ADA) issued guidance stating that dental practices need to postpone elective procedures and only provide emergency or urgent care. Months have passed and dentists are eager to bring their operations back up to speed, but not without inevitable requirements and protocols.

New Safety Protocol

The Pennsylvania Department of Health stated that dental practices must have sufficient PPE for all providers and has urged dentists to avoid procedures that “create a visible spray” of saliva or blood from patient’s mouths unless necessary as part of emergency treatment.

With the mandatory postponement of elective procedures, dentists have been “cash-strapped” and are concerned about how they will cover the new expense. A box of 50 masks that used to cost $5 will now cost $50, while a gown that used to be $1 now costs $15.

“We are still operating at a loss through all of this. It’s going to be a matter of getting back to some sort of schedule gradually and kind of seeing where all the costs shake out.”

Michael Barnes, a dentist in South Philadelphia

Some dental insurance plans cover these costs, but others may have to charge a PPE fee directly to patients or raise prices to account for the additional expense.

Unemployment rates have skyrocketed, meaning thousands of individuals are left uninsured or belong to a plan that does not provide full dental coverage — which is why patient advocates are worried that the rising dental costs will fall on families who have already been hit financially due to loss of income.

To cover the costs long term, the ADA has proposed creating a new insurance billing code or adjusting existing billing codes as insurance companies would have to agree to cover new fees.

Temple University’s dental clinic has been stocking up on protective equipment and has built makeshift rooms within the clinic for patients receiving dental treatments that may splatter water, spit, or blood. The school also bought 30 specialty suction machines designed to reduce spray during dental procedures, helping reduce the risk of the virus spreading through the air.

Dental care is essential and all involved parties (i.e. insurance carriers, clinics, etc.) will need to work together to ensure patients can receive the care they need at an affordable price.

Information provided by The Philadelphia Inquirer.