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Howard Speaks: What's the Plan? by Dr. Howard Farran

Dentaltown Magazine

by Howard Farran, DDS, MBA, publisher, Dentaltown magazine

For years now, my practice has offered an in-office dental savings plan for patients who don’t have insurance. Right now, we’ve probably got 350–400 people attached to it, and they’re impressed that it costs only $100 a year for each family member to join.

For that, the plan offers:

• 20 percent off preventive care, such as cleanings, exams, fillings, extractions and root canals.

• 25 percent off major dental work, such as crowns, bridges, partials and dentures.

Those patients also save 100 percent on X-rays—there’s no charge at all for them. That’s something people notably appreciate; the biggest pushback we get from patients is related to X-ray fees. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “They’re so expensive—I’ll do it next time” or, “I don’t need them, I just had them done.”

From the patient perspective, the savings on X-rays alone makes the plan worth it, because we usually charge about $120 for a full-mouth series. And because our images are digital, there are no film supply and development costs that need to be recouped.

Office Highlights

Pay pals

Our patients currently pay yearly right now—$100 right upfront at sign-up. But I also see a tremendous value in instituting a payment plan that’s charged monthly instead.

First, a monthly charge makes the cost more palatable to patients, who’d have to come up with only $8.33 a month—an amount that barely even registers—instead of the full $100 right away. More importantly, though, as companies like Netflix have demonstrated, the recurring-revenue model can be a winner. Even Apple is pushing its monthly streaming service now to compete with Spotify, as an alternative to buying individual songs on iTunes.

The average person goes to the gym for eight months but takes 38 months to cancel his membership. (And some people, like all four of my boys, would just never have the organizational skills to do that, so they’d just keep paying month after month.) If you have 400 patients on a plan who are being charged $8.33 a month, that brings in more than $3,300 every month. And it’s estimated that 40 percent of Americans didn’t see a dentist last year—imagine how many additional patients you might get if they knew they could get a significant discount on treatment, even if they’re not covered by insurance.

Both solo and partner plans make sense

Whether you go the YouTube Red route of billing once a month or the Amazon Prime avenue of billing once a year, the recurring-revenue model more often means when you get a patient, you get them for life?… or at least a very long time. (Before you start either way, be sure check with your state dental association to ensure your plan would be compliant with state laws relating to insurance and health care.)

Billing monthly brings up a few challenges, though: Do you have the staff hours available to run those charges? How about following up on collections for delinquent accounts? If you don’t have the manpower, companies like Kleer and Illumitrac will contract that work for you, and even with their fee taken out you’ll still be bringing in more patients, and revenue, than you were without them.

Training your Jedi patients

Lecturing all around the world, I get some unique cross-cultural insights. When you talk about dental insurance in China, for example, they see it as a perverse incentive: If someone chooses to drink sugary sodas and eat candy all day, why should your boss help you pay for your dental care? In Shenzhen, if you eat horribly and don’t take care of your teeth and get a cavity, you feel, “Well, I did this to myself” and open up your wallet to pay.

And yet in the 20 largest industrialized nations, there’s a mental block about purchasing something if they think it should be covered by insurance. Even though someone bought a $1,000 iPhone and a $33,000 new car, they’re averse to paying for their own health care. And if they don’t have health care insurance, it puts them into the mindset of a victim. “I got laid off at my job, so I don’t have any insurance.” “I’m retired now, so I don’t have any insurance.” And when they don’t have insurance coverage, they decide that they’re powerless. A noninsurance dental savings plan gives them back that power—and offering one gives them the feeling you’re on their side.

Every filmmaker who’s made 50 movies or more will tell you there’s a formula in how humans think. In every hit movie, you’re Luke Skywalker. And then you’re going to have a problem—it could be a monster, an alien, your lover left you—and then you’re always going to look for a guide, like Yoda or Obi-Wan. Patients who don’t have insurance are looking for this guide, this dentist, with an insurance plan to get over this problem. This dentist helps you solve a problem and then you live happily ever after. And sure, there are other savings plans available through insurers where you get just straight-up network fees—no deductible, no max, no claims forms—but they’re expensive. They’re a heck of a lot more than $8.33 a month.

Remember: You’re Yoda, not Luke

Now, how can you get the news about your savings plan out to people who, because they don’t have insurance, likely aren’t already visiting your practice?

Some people will tell you to use social media, but I disagree. When I’m surfing on, say, Facebook and I see an ad for whatever, that’s not when I’m shopping for an item. When I’m shopping for something, I’m doing a Google search, so I think it’s better to hook your website up to Google ad words.

And going back to your website and Luke Skywalker … remember that, by and large, consumers don’t care about anything in the world but themselves. In this scenario, they’re Luke.

Meanwhile, most dental websites are all about the dentist: “I was born in Kansas and I went to this university, I’m an Eagle Scout, my family, my dogs, me-me-me.” Most consumers don’t care where you were born or went to school. They’re sitting there in pain—they want in your practice. You’re supposed to be Yoda here, not Luke. The content of your website should all be for the customer—and you should tell them what to do. (If you say “call” above a phone number, you get three times the call rate.) “If you’re in pain, call this number.” “If you don’t have insurance, click here to learn how we can still help you.”

With the right plan and the right message, I believe more patients will find you and fall in line for treatment. If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you and have a discussion: Post a comment below.

Check it out!

Inside this issue: Read about another Townie’s dental savings plan experience
Dr. Richard M. Yarbro discusses how 99 percent of his existing uninsured patients signed up for a monthly savings payment plan and the logistics involved. Click here to read now!


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