VANCOUVER (NEWS 130) – Some B.C. dentists are charging patients a COVID-19 fee to help recoup their increased costs during the pandemic.
The surcharges are meant to offset increased spending on masks, face shields, high-volume suction machines, and cleaning supplies, as well as decreased revenues as offices serve fewer patients per day to ensure physical distancing.
In May, the B.C. Dental Association added a $10 PPE (personal protective equipment) code to its list of suggested fees, but it’s up to individual dentists whether to apply it.
“Due to increased demand from non-health sectors and supply shortages, the cost of regular dental PPE and new COVID PPE requirements are significantly higher than pre-COVID costs,” BCDA spokesperson Cary Chan said in an email.
The College of Dental Surgeons of B.C. doesn’t make any recommendations to its members on whether to charge COVID-19 fees, but a spokesperson said “the expectation is that patients are fully aware of all costs prior to any treatment being provided.”
Some dentists are charging it while others are not. The cost of the PPE is going up everyday. We are not charging it but it is becoming increasingly difficult to cover the cost due to shortages, limited ordering allowed and gouging from the suppliers.
— Kim (@LuvKimber) October 13, 2020
Eight of nine people who responded to a NEWS 1130 query on social media said they had either paid a COVID-19 surcharge or had been told to expect one from their dentist.
NEWS 1130 asked 20 Vancouver dental offices whether they were charging such a fee. Of the six offices that responded, five said they were not.
Rae-Anne Davis, office manager of Vancouver Dental Spa on West Broadway, said her office began charging some patients an extra $20 per visit, but has since reduced the surcharge to $10.
The fee was reduced because the office returned expensive high-volume vacuums and replaced them with cheaper machines which still provide added protection from aerosols that can potentially spread the coronavirus, she said.
Davis said the fee isn’t charged for simple cleanings or checkups.
She said patients understand the need for the fee when they see the multitude of COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
“They see what we’ve done in the office … and they don’t mind paying the $10 to protect them,” Davis said.
The cost of surgical masks and N95 respirators have virtually quadrupled during the pandemic, contributing to an overall doubling of PPE costs, she said.
“We can’t really cheap out on the materials and the PPEs because, at the end of the day, we want to make sure that our patients are protected and also ourselves too,” Davis said.
She said some, but not all, insurers have covered COVID-19 fees charged to their customers.
NEWS 1130 asked two extended health insurers whether they cover COVID-19 surcharges from dentists. Pacific Blue Cross said it doesn’t and Sun Life did not answer, instead deferring to its industry group, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, which did not reply by deadline.
Dr. Kashyap Vora, a dentist at Fraser Family Dental Clinic on Fraser Street, said he isn’t charging extra during the pandemic despite seeing his costs rise and revenue fall.
“I have given it a thought, but I have decided not to,” he said.
He said a $10 surcharge wouldn’t make a big difference in the big picture and he’s able to absorb his increased spending during the pandemic – including $2,000 apiece for two new suction machines – thanks to having a practice that has been established for years.
“For me at least, I know I cannot justify $10,” Vora said.
He said a COVID-19 might make more sense if it is being charged to patients seeking a consultation because of the added preparation needed to serve them.