Florida residents may be due for a dental cleaning since dentists were closed for months during quarantine — but these appointments may come with extra fees.
Raul Vera, a 20-year-old University of Florida junior, said he expected the fee when he walked into his appointment. He just didn’t know how much it was going to be.
“I was told before my appointment I did have an extra charge related to the resources dealing with COVID-19, but they never told me what the charge or the amount of the charge would be,” Vera said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order effective May 4 allowing for the first phase of reopening the state. This included medical facilities, if they had adequate personal protective equipment.
This fee varies by the provider and is not guided by the American Dental Association, according to a coding guidance document from the association. The dentist will individually determine what to charge, whether it be the full fee for the procedure or per visit fees, the report read.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance for opening dental offices on June 18, which read that dental settings should balance the need to provide necessary services while minimizing risks to patients and dental healthcare personnel.
Some offices opened around early to mid-May when the executive order became effective. Northwest Family Dental, a local dentist office in Gainesville, opened May 11 to take some time to prepare the personal protective equipment and the charges for them, said Casey Schmelz, a patient services representative at Northwest Family Dental.
Northwest Family Dental charges $5 to $12 for the COVID-19 fee, and this is to cover the personal protective equipment including gloves and protective face covering for the office, Schmelz said. She said the prices were heavy on the office since a normal box of gloves is usually $6, but now it has increased to $27 because of the pandemic.
“It doesn’t really seem fair for people who aren’t really coming in to be subject to the increase in price, so we just charge a per visit fee,” Schmelz said, referring to the two options they were given for charging for the personal protective equipment. They had the option to increase rates across the board or to just charge a per-visit fee, and the office chose the latter.
Some offices aren’t charging the fee. For example, Wiewiora & Dunn Orthodontics, a Gainesville orthodontic office, isn’t charging any additional fee despite the additional $6,000 in personal protective equipment they have purchased, including gowns, sanitizer masks for patients, plexiglass, aerosol suction tips, forehead thermometers and sanitizing spray, said Lee Wiewiora, the practice manager at the orthodontic office.
Regarding the legality of the fee, the American Dental Association allows charging patients for the fee, but the association gave guidance on the ethics of charging the fees. In the guidance document, the association said it would be unethical to only charge uninsured patients or only seek reimbursement for insured patients to pay the costs.
Vera said that although the fee is small, he does see that some people could be impacted by the extra fees, especially if they do not have insurance. However, he said he feels the charge is both fair and unfair to the customer.
“I do understand that a large amount of businesses are having an issue specifically with finances and especially devoting a specific amount of their financials toward COVID prevention and virus prevention,” Vera said. “It feels a bit facetious when they’re attempting to charge me for something or telling me there will be a charge for a thing…while simultaneously not informing me the amount of the charge.”