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Concerns with daily email deals for dental exams

March 12, 2012 8:14:00 PM PDT
Most people probably get a deal-a-day in their email inbox.

They used to just be for manicures and massages, but now many companies are also offering low-cost dental exams.

It's a sign of the times but it's also creating new controversy and even possible legal concerns.

"I work in the restaurant industry and none of us have health insurance," said Sarah Ricciardi, a patient.

For cheaper dental care many people are now going online.

Companies like Groupon, Living Social and KGB Deals are now also offering daily dental deals; x-rays, an exam and a cleaning for up to 90% off.

"I've seen those deals they make me a little skeptical," said Sarah, a deal watcher.

One potential problem is how the companies are paid.

"New York prohibits licensed healthcare professionals, especially dentists, from splitting their fees with any third party," said Lance Plunkett, Attorney, NY State Dental Association.

It's called "fee-splitting" which is illegal in New York and most states across the country.

Say the deal is for a $100 dental exam.

If the web company is paid 40% ($40) of each deal and the dentist gets the rest.

Some say that is fee-splitting.

Fee splitting laws were created decades ago to protect you, the patient.

The goal was to prevent doctors from paying other doctors for referrals, so you know your doctor is referring you to the best person for treatment you need, not because they're making money off of it.

It also applies to advertising.

Doctors and dentists can advertise but only if they pay a flat fee per ad, not a certain amount per patient.

"To give any third party a financial stake in a doctor patient relationship or in other professional relationship compromises the duty to the patient," Plunkett said.

The New York State Office of Professions which oversees dentists says it "is developing guidance for all the Professions to clarify potential fee-splitting in connection with internet coupons for professional services. Percentage fees or profit sharing through paper coupons, on the internet or in the yellow pages ads is prohibited under New York law." -Tom Dunn, Spokesman, New York State Education Department.

Eyewitness News spoke to Rob Schutz, the director of business development for KGB Deals, an internet coupon company.

"There's never any upfront fees, and they only, we only take a marketing fee for those who have purchased on our website," Schutz said.

In a follow up statement, KGB Deals told Eyewitness News:

"We have not been notified by the NY State Office of Professions or any other governmental agency of any improper actions regarding fee splitting, and we will continue to carefully monitor any new developments in this area."

Living Social told Eyewitness News, "We welcome any discussion with state officials to educate them on our business model and its use as a marketing platform for our merchant partners."

Groupon did not respond to Eyewitness News' calls or emails.

If it's determined that the online deals are a violation of the law, who would pay the price?

Lawyers say the dentist would, not the web company.

The health care provider could have their license suspended or revoked, and face a steep fine.

For more information please visit:

New York State: http://www.nysdental.org/
Complaints can be registered with:
New York's Professional Misconduct Enforcement System
Complaint Hot Line: 1-800-442-8106 or conduct@mail.nysed.gov

New Jersey Dentist records and complaints are maintained by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety:
https://newjersey.mylicense.com/verification/

Connecticut:
Verify the License of a dentist or hygienist here:
https://www.elicense.ct.gov/Lookup/LicenseLookup.aspx

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