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Letters: Data discrepancy

June 17, 2019

As the chairperson for the Council on Dental Benefits for the Rhode Island Dental Association, I was extremely surprised at the recent information from the ADA Health Policy Institute, which reported that Rhode Island dentists have the second-highest annual net income in the nation at $255,211.

The reason I was surprised is Rhode Island dentists are reimbursed at one of the lowest rates in the nation by third-party payers, and we have not received a fee increase from the two major dental benefit providers in the state for over 11 years.   

According to the report, the data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and according to their website, the number was calculated by multiplying 2,080 work hours (40 hours x 52 weeks) by an hourly mean wage. Given that information, the total would be a gross wage and not a net wage.

If the HPI report is accurate, a dentist would be in a 32% tax bracket, which means that the dentist would need to gross $375,000 to net $255,000. Referring back to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly mean wage was $122.21. For the HPI numbers to work the hourly mean wage would need to be $180.29.

When you take office overhead into consideration, to generate the $180 the dentist would need to produce and collect more than that per hour.

If we assume a 60% overhead, the dentist needs to produce and collect $450 for that hour of work to have the $180 for pay. Given our poor rates of reimbursement where our UCR fees are reduced by anywhere from 30-50%, this means the dentist must produce much more per hour to net the $450. 

While I would sincerely hope the numbers are true, I find them hard to accept, and I am skeptical that they are accurate. In addition, a report like this makes it more difficult for us to argue that the reimbursement rates need to be increased. Especially when the report says that Rhode Island dentists have the second-best net income in the nation.    

Andrew Gazerro III, D.M.D.
West Warwick, Rhode Island

Editor's note from Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute: Thank you very much for your letter. My team appreciates your taking the time to look at our analysis and to bring up these issues. We agree that the data should not be characterized as net income given the methodology. We have modified the infographic accordingly to clarify. In addition, there are other measures of dentist earnings available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the state level (e.g., median income, trended five-year moving average) that others might wish to examine. As far as we know, our analysis is the first that compares dentist earnings across all 50 states, adjusted for cost of living differences. Again, thanks for the thoughtful feedback.