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Washington insurer lowers reimbursement rates

Seattle—Washington Dental Service announced in April that it would reduce its reimbursements to dentists effective June 15.

WDS, a member of the Delta Dental Plans Association, made the announcement in April in a letter sent to dentists who participate in their plans. For dentists participating in the premier network, the fees will be reduced by an average of 15 percent and for those in the PPO network, there’s an average decrease of 5 percent, said spokeswoman Susan Curhan.

The reason for the reduction, according to a letter sent to dentists April 4, is because of the economy, and WDS wants to keep pace with competitors that are lowering their fees.

“As we are all aware, economic conditions continue to be challenging, characterized by continued high unemployment and actions by employers to reduce their employee benefit costs,” the letter says. “WDS’s competitors are responding, and dentists are agreeing to lower fees to join their panels. Employers, including our largest self-insured customers, are taking notice and demanding lower premium rates from WDS.

“For many years, WDS was able to provide annual provider fee increases that could be passed along to our customers. In today’s competitive market, this is no longer possible. If WDS does not reduce rates, employers are telling us they will obtain lower cost coverage elsewhere,” the letter says.

The Washington State Dental Association has not taken a formal position on the announcement but does want to inform its members.

“While we are severely restricted by the anti-trust laws, we view our role primarily as one of educating our members on the options they have as individual business owners,” said Stephen Hardymon, executive director of the WSDA. “In addition, we are encouraging open debate among the various parties, which we hope will lead to a better understanding of the long-term impact on the profession and the patients they serve.”