April 15, 2013
I recently found that the Washington Dental Service is paying for all of the University of Washington student’s clinical boards. At first I thought there must be some mistake. Surely it was the charitable WDS Foundation that must be giving the gift. After all, it has given $2.4 million dollars to charity. The Puget Sound Business Journal lists the Foundation ninth in their top 75 corporate philanthropists. Nope, the gift was not from the Foundation. It was from WDS.
I was surprised it was not a need-based, or scholarship gift. Every UW dental student taking the boards in Seattle hits the jackpot! I am very happy for them. No one better than a dentist understands their great accomplishment. It is an exceptional gift.
On the other hand, it smacks of quid pro quo. I suspect the money was not given out of the kindness of WDS’s hard little heart. This is a marketing ploy aimed at saddling up new workhorses. And I know there will be a hue and cry from dental students who think I don’t care about them, but the opposite is true. I care enough to point out that this gift will only further their debt to WDS. Do they fully understand the dynamics of the WDS fee reduction and what it will mean over the long term of their career? Will they remember this gift fondly should there be further cuts to their income?
I suspect that even without this gift, the students will sign. With the debt most of them carry, they have little choice but to take what they can get and move forward. So why did WDS even give?
It is my understanding that each student will get about $2,300. The total tally exceeds $100,000. That is small change for a company as large as WDS. On principal it is a big deal. Where did this loose change come from? Is there more? Did Mr. Dwyer donate it from his reported $1.2 million dollar salary? The last I heard was that WDS had cut its profits to the bone and was forced to cut dentists’ wages. One would think that if there were extra money laying about, its first obligation would be to provide more care for subscribers and better pay for the dentists — not give it away. I am one of the one million subscribers of a WDS dental plan. I wish we had the gift of higher coverage. I deserve the full value of the benefit that my agency pays for me. I did not sign up for the WDS “Charitable Giving” plan. This is MY health plan.
I keep thinking about the birth of WDS. From their website: “In the early 1950s, trustees of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union agreed to finance an experimental program to provide dental care to the children of union members. With agreement from the Washington State Dental Association, the Washington State Dental Service Corporation was created.” Actually, it was the WSDA that created WDS!
I think the intent was clear and pure. WDS was to manage an insurance plan between subscribers and dentists. I deeply appreciate and completely respect the need for social responsibility and corporate giving, but extra giving outside of the planned Foundation gifts seems off to me.
So why this gift, why the students, and why now? Surely WDS realizes that most dentists are still stinging from the fee reduction. This does not feel like the gift from a pure heart or a business watching its bottom line. It feels like a poke in the eye.
WDS, what were you thinking? I think you’ve lost sight of what you agreed to do in the 1950s. You owe your subscribers and dentists the plain, old-fashioned stewardship of an insurance plan. There is nothing tricky here. There are only three parties. It is business. Success in this business is not accomplished by giving staff enormous salaries, funding odd projects, and preying on new dentists. You set the tone for the adversarial relationship we now enjoy. Your website says you have 90 percent dentist participation, but most of them are unhappy. And while I appreciate that students need every break they can get, we’ve long known that heavy student debt comes with the territory, and this gift — such as it is — carries with it too many hidden costs and agendas. No student-marketing plan will quell these troubled waters.
How about taking a good look at your real bottom line and the crassness of your actions. We need good business principles. Grow some ethics and build your business on the principles of stewardship, respect, and trust — just as dentists have done. You should be the unbiased mediator between the consumer and the provider. You should show fairness above all other traits— if we get cut, you should take a hit right along side of us, by paring down and watching the bottom line. Go ahead and give meaningful gifts as part of your business plan through your established Foundation. Work with us, not against us. That is the reason the Delta system was created.