On April 4th, Washington Dental Service announced they were lowering the fees for all Premier and PPO programs. As many WDS member dentists have reported, the fee decrease is an average of 15 percent of their existing filed fees. WDS explains in a letter to members that the decision was necessary due to the challenges they are experiencing with increased competition from their competitors, particularly “low cost insurers.” In order to reduce the cost of their premiums, they had to reduce the fees paid to providers. On their web page, in the frequently asked questions section for providers, they state it is unlikely that provider compensation will go up again.
WDS has a large presence in our state and has a significant number of providers. This is due to the fact that over the years, they supported a product that provided fair compensation for delivering comprehensive services. They also had input from dentists who were practicing in communities across the state. This gave them real-time feedback about the patients their providers care for, and the success of treatment protocols. They were unique in this respect, as no other company had this representation. This representation has diminished over the years, and shifts in policy could be viewed as corporate-centered rather than patient-centered.
As members analyze this change in policy, they might wonder how this will affect the way we deliver dentistry. Most of us run small businesses with an intimate knowledge of our patient base. We want our patients to have the best care possible, and we usually spend the time, money, and energy it takes to exceed their expectations and have favorable outcomes. This includes modern facilities with up-to-date diagnostic and treatment equipment, well-trained and well-compensated staffs, and dentists who commit to post- graduate education. All this requires a significant reinvestment of our profits to maintain this level of care.
With many practices already struggling in this economy, we have made significant changes to our business models to continue to deliver the level of care our patients expect and we expect of ourselves. Staff hours have been reduced, supplies trimmed, lab costs scrutinized, and compensation cut. There seems to be little room for further reduction in costs. With these new reductions in reimbursement, it will be a significant challenge to see how we can continue to deliver the same level of care. We will have to evaluate patient volume, the services we offer and the way we offer them.
We have a rich tradition of quality education in the Northwest, which has influenced the way we deliver care regionally. We have one of the finest dental schools in the country. We also have some of the most sought-after continuing education programs in the world here. This has raised the bar for the standard of care. How will that standard be affected with reduced reimbursements?
We have a passionate concern for the underserved in our community. We give money and time to the various foundations managed by our state and local dental societies. We volunteer at clinics and organized events. We provide a great deal of undocumented free care for patients within our own practices. We will continue to do this, especially now when the underserved are larger in numbers and more vulnerable due to the economy. We step up even when our resources are reduced. How will this new challenge of reduced reimbursement affect our ability to give with fewer resources?
WDS had to make a choice to remain competitive. Many of us have been members long enough to see how the company has changed and how that has changed our relationship with them. The change in policy will have an economic impact on most members. Ultimately, it is an individual decision about how each will manage this change. One of the reasons many of us were attracted to dentistry is due to the independent setting it provided for us to practice. With that independence comes responsibility. The responsibility to provide the best care you can for your patients. It is not up to anyone else besides you and your patients.
-Chris Pickel, DDS