Dental, medical offices spending more on PPE -- And you may be the one paying for it

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Friday, November 6, 2020
Seeing surcharges on medical, dental bills? This could be why
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Next time you go to the dentist, doctor, or even the veterinarian, double check your bill. There may be a new coronavirus-related surcharge.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Next time you go to the dentist, doctor, or even the veterinarian, double check your bill. There may be a new coronavirus-related surcharge.

"It's so expensive to run a dental office," said Palo Alto dentist, Dr. Nidhi Pai, who says she hasn't taken a pay check since June.

"I've been using all my savings and credit cards, it's so expensive. We had to pour in so much money into the dental office," she said.

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New COVID-safe tools, extra cleaning supplies, and a huge increase in the cost of personal protective equipment.

"If a box of gloves costs $20 before COVID, now it'll cost $60," said Dr. Pai.

So who pays?

The New York Times reported that "surprise COVID" and "PPE" fees have turned up across the country."

ABC7 News reporter, Kate Larsen, received numerous messages Thursday from people in the Bay Area and beyond, who have been charged for PPE when they visit not just their dentist, but their doctors, and even veterinarians.

VIDEO: As businesses reopen, beware of COVID-19 surcharges

As businesses reopen, COVID-19 surcharges are popping up on receipts and bills across the country.

One bill shows a South Bay endodontics practice charged an extra $20 for PPE.

In Colorado, a dental patient with thousands of dollars in charges, paid an extra $10 for "COVID-19 PPE."

And an East Bay vet bill shows they've increased exam fees by $20 to make up for increased cleaning and PPE costs.

"They're doing what they have to do. I don't blame them," but Dr. Pai added, "I don't feel it's right to charge our patients this extra cost, because they're already under so much stress."

Dr. Pai did say that she and several dozen Bay Area dentists are now dropping Delta Dental - a major insurer.

"When we send a claim to Delta Dental, saying that we have incurred the PPE cost, they are refusing to pay that."

RELATED: Access COVID-19 help, information and resources

Delta Dental sent a statement that says:

"As dental practices continue to adjust to the complexities associated with COVID-19, the safety of patients, providers and their staff is a shared concern with everyone in the oral healthcare industry. In June, we began giving our network providers temporary supplemental funding to use flexibly toward additional expenses for personal protective equipment and other needs associated with safely operating their practices. In early October, we announced that we had extended the reimbursement program through the end of the year. Billing Delta Dental patients for PPE expenses and other surcharges is not contractually allowed."

The California Dental Association also a sent a statement saying their working to get dental plans to cover PPE costs:

"Due to the unprecedented health risk that COVID-19 presents and a lack of rapid and accurate testing, dental teams must now use significantly more personal protective equipment to safely perform dental care. The high cost of this new PPE is exacerbated by scarcity due to extraordinary supply chain disruptions that have, in some cases, led to price gouging from suppliers.

Dental benefit plans, which continued to collect millions in premiums from patients during the pandemic while dental offices closed or handled emergencies only, have a responsibility to share the cost of additional personal protective equipment without which dental care is not currently possible. In the absence of dental benefit plans voluntarily offering to cover the cost of PPE, dentists are faced with absorbing the cost, which they may pass along to patients. CDA is advocating for dental benefit plans to cover additional PPE costs to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission during this challenging time."

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