PPE Fees May Violate Consumer Protection Act

Dentistry Today

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Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh is alerting consumers to surcharges by some dental providers that could violate the Consumer Protection Act as dentists begin providing elective and non-urgent care again with enhanced infection control protocols required by the state’s Secretary of Health.

“Consumers have notified us that some reopened practices are collecting additional, upfront amounts for the costs of enhanced infection controls, including personal protective equipment,” said Frosh. “Many dental insurance agreements prohibit certain upfront fees, and consumers should be aware that this practice may violate the Consumer Protection Act.”

Complaints have generally referenced fees in the range of $10 to $20 per visit, but the Office of the Attorney General said it has heard anecdotally about charges as high as $172.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division also has sent a letter to the Maryland State Board of Dental Examiners and the Maryland State Dental Association alerting the dental provider community to the Office’ position that imposing additional fees, particularly those charged upfront to all patients, may violate the Consumer Protection Act’s prohibition against unfair or deceptive trade practices.

Provider-carrier contracts, as well as public and private insurance laws, typically prohibit participating providers from charging such fees to insured consumers, the Office of the Attorney General said. The Division further acknowledged in the letter that many consumers and dental providers are facing financial challenges during the pandemic.

“Maryland’s unemployment rate officially reached 9.9% at the end of April due to the COVID-19 emergency, and consumers are contending with losses of income and benefits that are devastating to them,” the letter said.

“Our office has little doubt that the dental provider community is also facing financial challenges but trust you will work with us to protect consumers as our laws intend so they may be able to afford the dental care they need,” the letter said.

Consumers may contact the Attorney General’s Health Education and Advocacy Unit (HEAU) with questions or complaints. The HEAU will investigate the complaint and mediate a billing dispute with the dental provider. Complaints may be filed online or reported at (410) 528-1840, (410) 230-1712 (en Español), or heau@oag.state.md.us.

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