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Indiana attorney general takes action against Aspen Dental

October 23, 2015

By Kelly Soderlund

Indianapolis — The Indiana attorney general announced Oct. 22 a settlement with Aspen Dental Management Inc. after patients complained that the company used deceptive advertising and other unfair tactics to promote services.

The office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller alleged that Aspen Dental marketed free or discounted denture consultations, dentures, initial exams and X-rays at Indiana practices without adequately disclosing limitations or qualifications for these offers, according to a news release. Mr. Zoeller's office also stated that these advertisements promoted interest-free payment plans through third-party creditors without adequately disclosing the limitations or qualifications of such lending agreements.

Aspen Dental Management Inc. is a dental service provider based in East Syracuse, New York, that provides business support and administrative services to 30 dental practices in Indiana. The individual practices are not part of the settlement, the news release said. "As dentists, we want all of our patients to feel comfortable, safe and that they are receiving the best care and treatment," ADA President Maxine Feinberg said in regards to the settlement. "The ADA strongly advocates that dental practices be transparent and fair when they advertise their services, and we're glad the settlement agreement supports the notion that patients should be informed accurately of the offers that are being proposed."

Representatives from Aspen Dental said they disagreed with the attorney general's findings and pointed out the extended time period from which the complaints arose.

"Aspen Dental Management Inc. cooperated fully with the Office of the Indiana Attorney General but we disagree with their conclusions," according to a statement released by the company. "The Office of the Attorney General itself acknowledges that many of the issues were addressed by Aspen Dental Management Inc. prior to settlement. Also, it is important to note that the 73 complaints cited by the Office of the Attorney General were received over a nine-year period during which the 30 independently-owned Aspen Dental practices in Indiana provided care to more than 338,000 individual patients. We are proud of the fine work the Aspen Dental practices we support do every day to help improve America's oral health."

Indiana is the second state to investigate Aspen Dental's business practices this year. In June, the New York attorney general announced a settlement with the company that required it to pay a $450,000 penalty, remove itself from any clinical decisions within its practices, not split patients' fees with the clinics and make it clear to consumers that the management company is not a provider of dental services.

The attorney general's office received 73 consumer complaints against Aspen Dental based on these advertising-related allegations and many of the complainants were over the age of 60, according to the news release. Under the agreement, which only pertains to Aspen Dental Management's affiliated practices in Indiana, the company must pay $95,000 to the state of Indiana.

Of that payment, $15,000 will be used to repay affected consumers and the rest will be put toward state investigative costs and future consumer protection enforcement, the news release stated. The attorney general's office will offer restitution to consumers who previously filed complaints related to these allegations.

As the attorney general investigated the company over the past year, Aspen Dental began reforming its advertising techniques, a move it will continue to do under the agreement, according to the news release. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Aspen is required to fully disclose the terms and limitations of its advertised promotions, stop advertising products or services as "free" that are not and provide training to employees at its affiliate dental clinics in Indiana on terms and conditions of third-party credit agreements so that full information is passed on to consumers, according to the news release.

"Misleading customers about the true cost of dental services is deceptive and unlawful, and this behavior placed unanticipated financial burden on Hoosiers, many of which were senior citizens," Mr. Zoeller said. "Today's settlement will protect customers of Aspen Dental branded practices in Indiana and help ensure they have full information before making decisions about costly procedures."