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If your dentist or doctor offers you a credit card to make payment, beware.

The New York Times published an article this week addressing the increased marketing of dental and medical credit cards by treaters.  While a patient is perhaps still in pain or discomfort, and being informed of the need for further treatment, credit card vendors are encouraging dentists and doctors to offer the needed care through third-party financed time payment.

As the credit card companies point out, the system is a guaranteed winner for the doctor or dentist:  they are paid immediately for their services.  Meanswhile, if the patient misses a payment or hasn't completed payment within the 6-18 month window, penalties of $50.00 per month or 30% interest (on the original balance--from the date of treatment) are not uncommon.

Dr. Dan Dellinger of Palm Harbor, Florida, refused to comment when approached by the Times to comment on his patient, 78 year-old Patricia Gannon, who now pays one-third of her Social Security monthly check, $214.00, for a partial denture.  The original cost was $5700.00 and the interest charge was 23% if all payments were timely; 33% plus a $50.00 fee if a payment was late. Fortunately fopr Knellinger, he has been paid in full.

Examples like this and out-of-line marketing to dental and medical professionals have resulted in investigations and civil law suits around the country.  The New York attorney general's office found that some health care providers had pressured patients to obtain credit cards from CareCredit, a unit of General Electric, that gave providers a discount based on the number of transactions they initiated.    Large banks like Wells Fargo and Citibank have also entered the market.   In Ohio, the attorney general has sued hearing aid clinics for misleading consumers in the purchase of batteries and warranties.

Use of the iCare Financial card has grown by 320 percent in three years.  In 2010, only about one thousand dentists offered iCare credit card financing; today the number of participants has increased to 4200.  In 2010, consumers charged about $45 billion dollars in health care costs on credit cards, and of course the cost of medical care is thought to be the genesis of nearly two-thirds of all U.S. consumer bankruptcies.  The ADA's "Business Enterprises" profit-making arm endorses the General Electric CareCredit card, now in the hands of seven million people nationwide.  Aspen Dental, a chain that makes extensive use of credit cards for payment, is the subject of "hundreds of customer complaints" according to the Times, and recently reached a settlement with Pennsylvania authorities over claims that it "had failed to tell patients" about key facts like the 30 percent penalty for missing a payment.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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