Should patients be responsible for price of PPE?

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you’ve been back to the dentist since offices were allowed to resume routine services, you’ve likely noticed many changes — and maybe a slight increase in the bill.

To offset skyrocketing costs for personal protective equipment, some dentist’s offices are passing the buck to their patients. 

Coming to terms with who should handle the price is tough for dentists and patients alike.

“Who’s going to pay for this?” President of the Michigan Dental Association Dr. Steve Meraw wondered. “It is sort of a mandate to the dentists and it comes down to professional responsibility.

“The increased cost is coming out somewhere and they’re necessary. We have to do these things to keep everyone safe and I think most patients have been understanding of that,” he continued. “The inconveniences and some of the cost have to be balanced with safety.”

Patient Kathryn Cramer said she’s not OK with bearing the cost.

“I don’t think this is right that you can offset your cost to the consumer,” Kramer said. “We understand, first of all, that businesses are hurting. We know that. But consumers are hurting as well. We have over 40 million people unemployed. The consumer cannot take one more thing.”

Cramer has been a patient at the same dentistry practice for the last 15 years. She was alarmed when they sent her a text message ahead of her appointment telling her she’d be required to pay an additional $10 for PPE staff would need during her visit.

“A lot of people will say it’s just $10. Well, that $10 on somebody else’s table’s going to buy a meal or go in their gas tank or help buy school supplies for their kids. I think as consumers we need to stand up and say how much bleeding does the consumer have to go through,” Cramer said. “I just think it’s wrong and I think they all need to stop and say, look, we need to eat the cost. It’s just the right thing to do.”

The Michigan Dental Association said a modest PPE surcharge isn’t outrageous, especially when factoring in the fact that dentist’s offices were closed for everything but emergency services for months. But it’s not a universal agreement. The MDA cannot force offices to charge patients. Some have chosen to take the price on themselves.

“Dentistry is expensive enough, it’s full of barriers to access the care, why put one more in there?” President of Smile Dental Partners Dr. Darren Riopelle said. “I use an analogy: You go buy a new car and then they say, ‘Oh, you want floor mats? That’s more.’ It’s just not how you do business.”

Riopelle said his patients will not be asked to foot the bill for PPE, which includes face masks, gloves and ultraviolet ceiling air filtration fans. To offset the price, he has chosen to remove some of the “niceties” from his waiting room to make room for the necessities.

“We decided as an organization that we could burden those costs,” Riopelle said. “We had to figure out a better way to do business and not put something that designed to protect me and my team and force the patient to pay that. That’s my job, not theirs.”

It’s less about the price and more about the principle for Cramer, who says she’ll continue to speak up for struggling consumers. 

“Ten dollars may not be a lot of money to some people, and it may not be a lot of money to me, but it’s a lot of money to a vast majority of people when it can be going to something more essential,” Cramer said.

The Michigan Dental Association says if you have any questions about the fees associated with PPE at some offices, be sure to contact your insurance provider and have a conversation with your dentist.