PPE fee means patients could pay more at dentist's office

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MASON CITY, Iowa – Godwin Odia said he was surprised when he got a call from his dentist about a coronavirus surcharge fee added to his bill.

“I told the dentist, no, I will not pay,” he told Fox News. 

Odia, who lives in Maryland, said his dentist will charge $10 per person for each visit. That would be an additional $40 for his family of four each time they visit. 

The additional cost would cover personal protective equipment (PPE) for dentists.

“I don’t think it’s proper to charge consumers because they, too, are suffering and have been financially impacted by COVID-19, as well,” Odia added. “

But these fees are not just limited to Maryland. 

As dental offices across the country resume services after closing their doors during the pandemic, they have new guidelines from the American Dental Association to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. 

Dr. Nathan Hehr and his team in Mason City, Iowa, for example, will screen patients twice to determine their exposure to the coronavirus.

The first assessment is over the phone. Staff will ask if the patient or anyone close to the patient tested positive for the coronavirus. The second line of questioning will come on appointment day.  

“We’re doing that to protect both the patient and us,” Hehr told Fox News. “We now have a face shield that we’ve never worn before, and we’re wearing N95 masks that have better protective [sic] and better seal around the edges.”

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Also, patients will not be allowed in the waiting room. Instead, they will have to wait in their vehicles and call into Hehr’s office. One of his team members will meet the patient outside to take his or her temperature. If it’s higher than 100.4 degrees, patients will have to reschedule.

Hehr said visits might take a little longer because staffers have to do extra cleaning between patients, as well.

“One of the new things with the coronavirus is aerosols. When we’re working on patients with our hand tools, it generates a lot of air and water that could potentially be released in this room,” Hehr added.

He put up shower curtains across patient doorways to create a barrier to limit the exposure in the office. Patients have been required to wear face masks and sanitize hands before they can enter his office. Hehr said he would provide masks to patients who need them.

All of these things will add up, he said.

“I think we have to be realistic with the fact that our overhead costs have gone up significantly with the new PPE and the changes we have to make. Somehow that has to be accounted for,” he told Fox News.

Making matters worse for dentists is the fact that appointments have been down.  

“Nine out of 10 dentists were reporting that, compared to last year at the same time, they were seeing 5 percent of the patients they would see in a normal period,” said Laurie Traetow, executive director for the Iowa Dental Association.

The American Dental Association has recommended guidelines for dentists who are charging PPE fees.

It’s not yet clear whether insurance companies will cover the new fees or if they’ll have to come out of patients’ pockets.

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As for Odia, he said his insurance company would not cover the cost for the coronavirus surcharge.

“My insurance company told me over the phone that they would not cover it because a PPE charge is unnecessary.”