Financing Orthodontic Treatment: Part III: Third-Party Financing Adds Another Viable Option
Like many orthodontists, Dr. Jeffrey Gilmore of Marietta, OH will self-finance treatment. If a patient makes a down payment, additional payments can be extended over the course of treatment with no interest charged.
“Of course, not everyone can make a down payment,” says Dr. Gilmore. “Some families with good credit ratings do not have extra, available cash on hand for that purpose, or they may feel that they have to conserve the cash they have for some other pressing need.”
As a Board member of AAO Services Inc., in 2008 Dr. Gilmore helped evaluate proposals from third-party financing companies wishing to be endorsed by the AAO. Such companies work with orthodontic practices, providing long-term financing of treatment for patients and their families.
“Some families just use their credit cards,” says Dr. Gilmore. “But especially since interest rates on credit card balances have been rising, a dental services financing company that offers good terms can save patients money. Many companies submitted proposals for endorsement by the AAO. As we learned about the industry, we discovered that some companies have outrageous terms and that many people will not read the fine print, so it is important to be careful when adding a third-party finance firm to your practice. We wanted to select a company for endorsement that would offer fair terms and that overall, offered a program that would be good for patients and also good for their doctors.”
Dr. Gilmore explains that in addition to the patient receiving a reasonable interest rate, the doctor needs to have a fair charge per patient enrolled because the company does take a percentage of the fee.
“It is also important that the company be able to approve patients for financing quickly – ideally while they are still in the office or within the next 24 hours, and be able to deposit the funds covering treatment to the doctor’s account soon after credit approval,” says Dr. Gilmore.
The AAO Services committee unanimously recommended and the AAO Board approved the endorsement for Springstone Patient Financing. Dr. Gilmore added Springstone-based financing to the menu of financing options at his own practice after participating in the endorsement selection.
“In two years, we have had no complaints from patients about Springstone,” he says. “While the niche of patients who are well-suited to a third-party financing service is small because those with good credit ratings often can make a down payment, the availability of the financing service can meet a real need for some. It can help a patient who could not be in treatment otherwise get treatment.”
For patients who are not enrolled in third-party financing, Dr. Gilmore emphasizes the importance of flexibility.
“Everyone who will have to pay 100 percent out-of-pocket or will have a balance due after insurance payments may have a different situation,” he says. “Customizing payment plans can go a long way toward reassuring families that they will be able to afford orthodontic treatment. If income is greater at certain times of the year, which we often see with farm families from our area, we can tailor payment schedules to reflect that. Other families may need to wait and use their tax refunds to make large payments, and pay less at other times of the year.”
Dr. Gilmore agrees with Dr. Klarsch that it is important to educate patients about the extent to which FSAs can help with financing treatment.
“In some cases, we may ask about that on the first phone call with a prospective patient, especially if the employer is a company that we know offers an FSA plan,” he says.
“The most important factors for success in orthodontic practice are quality of care and results,” says Dr. Gilmore. “In today’s economy, though, making a variety of payment options available for the treatment needed by the patient is more important than ever.”
* Springstone offers orthodontists a free pamphlet, “The Ten Essentials of Case Acceptance.” The brochure, which addresses communication about financial arrangements, can be obtained by calling 800-630-1663.