The old saw goes like this: Dentists are depressed because no one likes dental work. Another theory is that dental insurance is so vexing it’s kept dentists and patients grinding their teeth.
In fact, the digitization of healthcare is rolling forward in earnest, and dentistry isn’t getting left behind.
On Thursday (Jan. 13), the dental subscription platform membersy is unveiling membersy Marketplace, an online portal where individuals can subscribe and find dentists in their area that belong to the membersy network, enjoying free services and steep discounts.
Noting that dental isn’t even covered by Medicare, membersy Founder and CEO Eric Johnson recently told PYMNTS that “In dentistry, insurance is broken. It has been for a long time. That’s evident right with the 100 million-plus Americans that don’t have [dental] insurance and pay cash if and when they go to the dentist.”
Johnson’s company has spent five years perfecting what he calls “an in-house dental plan model” offered by dental offices through dental service organizations (DSOs) that own multiple practices from a few locations up to large players like Heartland Dental, which has 1,500 locations.
Under the membersy model, dentists — not insurers— decide on discounts and out-of-pocket costs. Not unlike Amazon Prime, membersy Marketplace operates on a one-time annual fee, and subscribers can use the service as much as they like, paying negotiated rates.
As these plans are non-risk bearing, “there’s no claims process or adjudication process for a provider and a patient when they use it,” he said. “They essentially become a member, like a Costco, to that dental practice. They then have access to a transparent member fee schedule that shows what the normal fees are for non-members and then what members pay.”
He explained that a typical insurance plan might offer two free exams, X-rays, two free annual cleanings, and then give patients 20% to 50% off most other services. By contrast, membersy lets dentists create their own plans without having to jump through red tape. According to the company, about 1 million members and more than 4,000 practices are using the platform, which handles plan licensing, billing, support and marketing.
“It’s just a more direct and connected experience for the doctor and for the patient,” Johnson said.
Here Comes ‘Membership Dentistry’
Historically, dentist’s offices have done what membersy’s selling by alerting patients to the option.
Under the new marketplace subscription model, Johnson said “we are now going direct-to-consumer, enrolling patients, and spending the digital marketing dollars that we need to get the eyeballs to the site in the [geographical] areas that we’ve got available plans.”
Membersy raised $66 million in financing from Spectrum Equity five months ago, and Johnson said the company is “really doubling down on product, our technology and our platform. Additionally, we’re really building out our marketing department. That includes product marketing, but it also includes our direct-to-consumer marketing through [the new] marketplace.”
Plans are priced from $99 to $250 a year, and range “from just having free exams and discounts to some of our more expensive plan that have free exams, X-rays, cleanings and discounts,” Johnson said, adding that “unlike insurance companies, we’re not creating fee schedules and having offices join the network. We are helping our partners create their own fee schedules that make sense for their market and their patients, and we’re facilitating the relationship through our platform.”
Sounds like connected dentistry, and to an extent it is. After dental, he said membersy is eyeing other healthcare segments — including dermatology, ophthalmology and veterinary medicine.
Dental Subscriptions Make An Impression
Though we’re all supposed to get regular cleanings and checkups, many of us only go to the dentist when something hurts or when our bridgework breaks. That translates into a paucity of annual visits.
“Historically patients that don’t have insurance only go to the dentist when they have emergencies. There’s no recurring nature to relationship,” Johnson said. “Our plans, being subscription-based, are really encouraging that kind of recurring nature of the program where they use it every six months, they renew the plan every single year, and they continue their relationship with their dentist.”
It’s been a long time coming, Johnson said, citing three trends contributing to what he called an exciting moment in the field.
Dental service organizations are consolidating what was once a cottage industry, gaining efficiency and purchasing power. The market is also awash in cash, he said.
“Any time you have a lot of cash in any market, you have to be able to control that cash and you need to do that with discipline and a consistent approach to how you present treatment to how you present pricing. A subscription dental plan is the mechanism for that.”
The third component of this nail-biter is that dental is getting more personal.
“Consumers want things that they do across other segments of their life,” Johnson said. “We know subscriptions are common across all segments of life. We really believe that membership-based relationships with ancillary healthcare providers is the future of care.”