How 'bout them apples?!

May 1, 2002
Dental insurance industry- bashing is fun to do. Every story needs a villain, and in dentistry's story, it's the insurance industry.

"Knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
"Sara who?"
"Sara 'notherway of looking at dental insurance?"

Dental insurance industry- bashing is fun to do. Every story needs a villain, and in dentistry's story, it's the insurance industry. Like so many menacing Darth Vaders, the towering insurance company-owned skyscrapers remind us of how strong they are and how weak we are. They are the bad guys; we are the good guys.

There's another point of view regarding traditional dental insurance. This view creates far fewer contests with patients and can advance your practice. Let's compare dental insurance to grocery-store coupons.

Suppose you want to buy a bushel of apples. You're getting ready to go to the grocery store and you notice discount coupons for apples in your newspaper. It says, "This coupon worth $5 toward the purchase of one bushel of apples." You walk into your grocery store and there in the produce section, under a bright apple orchard display, are bushels of shiny apples with red bows on the baskets. Working in produce is a cheeky grocery boy spraying the lettuce. He spots you eyeing the apples and says, "How 'bout them apples? We just got them in this morning. You'll love 'em! If you like, I'll carry them out to your car."

"Thank you," you say, "I'll take a bushel and I've got this coupon worth five bucks."

"Great," our helpful lad says. "What are you going to do with all these apples?"

"I'm going to make 10 apple pies for my son's school bakery fund-raiser sale," you say.

"You know," he says, "while you're here in the store, check out the pie crusts in aisle four, Cool Whip in the refrigerated section in aisle two, and all the spices you'll need next to housewares, where they've got some cool, new apple-peelers. Come on, I'll show you."

A half hour later you're at the checkout counter with a cart full of goodies - pie pans, low-fat pie crusts, two pounds of sugar, six bottles of cinnamon, three tubs of butter, five gallons of apple cider, dancing apple pie refrigerator magnets, two cook books, three bottles of wine, and a chef's apron that says "Kiss the Cook."

The checkout girl rings up your stuff. "$75.16," she says with a smile. You hand her your apple coupon, she swipes it across the laser reader, and you see $5 disappear from your total. You write out a check for $70.16 and you're a happy camper/cook.

Now what if the cashier didn't accept the coupon? What if she told you that quality customers don't use coupons? What if she made you feel cheap for wanting to use it? Would you still be happy?

Dr. Susan Maples of Lansing, Mich., makes a great observation about employee benefits. She says, "I remind my team that it's important to honor patients and not degrade them by belittling their insurance. Many patients see their benefits package as a badge of honor. Who are we to chide them and tell them that their dental insurance isn't worth much? Our job is to help them understand their dental-health issues and how insurance benefits can help them."

Don't create unnecessary contests over insurance. The fact of life is that patients want to use it. Make their experience with you a great one, so that when they're ready to get dentistry done that's well beyond the annual limitations of their insurance policy, they'll choose your "grocery store."

I'm well aware of the manipulative tactics of insurance companies and that legions of patients see their dental health in terms of how much their insurance will pay. I'm also aware of the snobby attitudes toward insurance in dentistry. Be careful not to take out your frustrations with insurance companies on your patients.

Coupons get shoppers into grocery stores. Dental insurance gets patients into dental offices. What happens after patients are in your office will depend on how well they like your apples!

Dr. Paul Homoly coaches dental teams to implement reconstructive dentistry through his continuing-education workshops, private consulting, and seminars. This column is an excerpt from his new book, Isn't It Wonderful When Patients Say Yes? - Case Acceptance for Complete Dentistry. Dr. Homoly can be reached at (704) 342-4900 or via email at [email protected]. Visit his Web site at

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