In 2000, the U.S. Surgeon General called out dental health as a "silent epidemic" that afflicts poorer population groups even more disproportionately than the health care divide. Yet in the 10 years since, as the debate over medical insurance has intensified, little attention has been paid to the costs of dental care.
If you're not covered by a dental plan of some sort, you're going to pay a lot more than you need to for almost any procedure. That's because most dental insurance plans that pay dentists are based on discounts from the retail prices of the procedures they do. So dentists set retail prices rather high, and have to charge some patients those fees.
But you can get the lower negotiated rates yourself, even if you don't have insurance. As it turns out, large "cost containment networks" exist that organizations and individuals can sign up for. Some unions and state governments use Careington, for example, which has negotiated discount rates with about a quarter of the dentists in the U.S.
A start-up launching today, Brighter.com, takes the Careington network and offers both paid and free subscriptions to it for individuals. The site packages the discounts alongside Webbish tools to make finding dentists easier, too. If you don't have a dental plan (or a dentist), it appears to be a no-brainer to use--the free version at least.
Brighter is not insurance, mind you. The consumer-patient has to make his own decisions about the procedures he's going to buy, and has to pay the dentist directly. Being a member of Brighter grants the consumer a discount off retail prices; Brighter doesn't pay the dentists itself. … Read more