Dental patients may see added ‘COVID-19 PPE supply’ fee on their bill

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) –Just about every business has taken a financial hit due to the pandemic. In some cases, businesses are now passing on the added expense for personal protective equipment to the customer.

Dental patients may start seeing an extra fee for ‘COVID-19 PPE supplies.’ The fee is meant to try and recoup additional costs for things like masks that dental offices across the state are now paying more for. Whether the patient will pay that fee or their insurance company, will depend on the practice.

“The main reason for the cost being higher is the supply and demand issue,” explained Dr. Tom Schripsema, Executive Director for the New Mexico Dental Association. “Some of it has come from PPE that’s costing more, some of it has come from additional equipment and supplies.”

Dr. Schripsema explained dental offices across the state in some cases are paying four to five times more for things like masks, than they were pre-pandemic. On top of added costs, dental practices are also purchasing more PPE than they used to, in order to have enough supply for all office staff and the public.

How some of that extra cost may be passed onto the public, is evolving. “I would expect things are going to change over the next few months and probably over the course of a year in terms of how insurance deals with this, and how offices will be able to deal with it as a result of that,” Dr. Schripsema explained.

For now, private practices can use a code from the American Dental Association to bill some of that added PPE cost to the patient or their insurance company. The fee may show up on a patient’s receipt as a $10 charge for ‘COVID PPE supplies.’

The fee amount may vary from practice to practice, Dr. Schripsema explained. And whether the patient’s insurance will cover that fee, can depend on a pre-existing contract between the provider and their insurance company.

“If you have insurance and your dentist is under a certain contract – that’s going to affect whether you pay for that or whether your insurance pays for that,” Dr. Schripsema explained. He encouraged patients to talk with their dental offices about any fees and get an explanation of the costs.

Jennifer Abraham, Director for New Mexico Community Dental, said their office chose not to bill the customer that added fee, but she explained, they are taking a hit. Her office is billing insurance, but it’s unclear at this point which companies will choose to pay it, she said.

“We’ve not only doubled up on our ordering but now we have to double up or almost triple up on all of our PPE prices, which has – it’s taken a hit on all of us, to say the least,” Abraham explained. “If that means you know that we’ll just have to take a hit for the next year or so to be able to take care of our patients and keep the same prices, then so be it.”

As an example, a box of single-use masks used to cost them $5.99. On Monday, she was quoted $50-60 dollars for that same box of masks, since their normal supplier was out-of-stock.

Box of single-use masks that normally cost $5.99. Courtesy: New Mexico Community Dental

Not having an income for three months when they were closed, and now having to stock up on hard-to-come-by PPE is making things difficult, Abraham explained. Dental offices also have masks on-hand for patients who come in without one.

Dr. Schripsema said the added costs for PPE could eventually be factored into a patient’s visit, instead of getting a separate charge for COVID supplies. Since most dental insurance is regulated on the federal level, he said this conversation is happening on the national level about how to move forward.

Abraham said she knows colleagues from other dental offices who are struggling to stay afloat. “I hope and pray that they find ways to get out of this hole without really hurting themselves or the patients on the other end too,” Abraham added.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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