Local dentists cutting ties with Washington Dental Services

Local dentists cutting ties with Washington Dental Services  »Play Video
A trip to the dentist could get a lot more expensive for thousands of consumers across the state. Local dentists are cutting ties with the state's leading dental benefits company.

If you have dental coverage through Washington Dental Service, it means you may soon have to make a tough choice: stay with your current dentist and pay more, or switch to someone new.

For Dr. Andrew Lewis of Seattle, the choice will test both the loyalty and finances of his patients. As of this month, Lewis is terminating his contract with Washington Dental Service, because the insurance company is reducing reimbursable fees to dentists by at least 15 percent.

After nearly two years with no fee increases, dentists say the move means cutting fees, in some cases, as much 22 percent in some dental offices. Lewis says in today's economy, it's a change he cannot afford to make.

"That charge for me happens to be lower than a fee that I charged 10 years ago," said Lewis. "My rent goes up every year. My expenses go up every year for paying for medical expenses for my staff and myself."

It's the first fee reduction in Washington Dental Service's 57-year history. Dental director Dr. Ron Inge says the decision was more than a year in the making.

"This was a tremendous struggle for us to accommodate within our internal processes," said Inge. "One of the issues that we had, was that Washington Dental Service was paying higher fees for services than some of our competitors."

Employer pressured to reduce the costs of benefits is forcing benefit providers to clamp down on the fees they reimburse to dentists in the network. Washington Dental says thousands of dentists are choosing to stay in the network and drop their prices.

"If your dentist decides not to continue their participation as a member dentist, you still have the ability to go to that dentist," Inge said.

Dental office manager Lori Dinkleman says ultimately, the bottom line is that patients' out-of-pocket expenses will increase.

Dinkleman works for Dr. Sue Vetter of Seattle, who will drop Washington Dental in August.

"We've been talking to all of our clients first to let them know what's going on so that they're prepared for that," Dinkleman said.

Dentists leaving the network are banking on dentist-patient relationships to keep their client bases. They say many dentists who agree to take the cuts WDS requires may have to reduce certain services, cut patient time or cut back on professional education.

In going out of network, dentists are hoping that quality of service and commitment to patient care will be worth the added cost of staying in a familiar dental chair.

Again, if you have Washington Dental and your dentist leaves the network, you will still have coverage; you'll just have a higher co-pay. How much higher will depend on the service.