After receiving numerous inquiries from consumers, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has issued an advisory noting the obligations of dental providers under state law in relation to infection control surcharges.
According to the Attorney General’s office, consumers have asked about dental providers who are collecting, or who intend to collect, additional fees to cover the costs of infection controls including personal protective equipment (PPE) relating to COVID-19.
In some instances, the office said, consumers have not been told about these fees until after the service was provided. The office noted that despite the challenges that many practices may be facing, consumers should be protected from inappropriate charges.
The office further said that according to the Consumer Protection Law, Chapter 93A, contacts with dental insurers may prohibit participating dental practices from charging plan members additional fees, even if the fees are meant to cover unexpected costs in infection control.
Dental practices should check with the dental insurers they participate with to determine whether such surcharges are allowed before attempting to collect payment from a patient, the office said.
Dental practices that are collecting or attempting to collect fees from consumers that are not allowed under their provider contracts with insurers may be engaging in unfair and/or deceptive acts and practices in violation of Chapter 93A, the office said.
In situations where additional fees may be allowed, practices must notify patients of any new or additional charges they intend to collect to cover infection control measures and any new changes in financial policies due to COVID-19, the office said.
Notice must be provided on an individual basis and before any service is provided including, when possible, when the appointment is made and when an appointment is confirmed. The Attorney General’s office will consider failure to provide such notice to be a likely unfair and/or deceptive act in violation of Chapter 93A.
The office also advises consumers who are asked to pay a surcharge to contact their dental insurers to determine whether the additional fee is covered by their insurance or prohibited by the terms of the insurer’s contract with their dental provider. The Attorney General’s office offers a helpline as well at (888) 830-6277.