As if COVID-19 hasn’t cost all of us enough, unexpected COVID fees continue to appear on patient medical bills, dental bills and resident bills at assisted living facilities. Worse yet, the fees don't appear to be going away anytime soon.
Carrie McGuirk of Boca Raton said she learned her dentist charged an extra $15 fee only after she reviewed her bill from a routine cleaning.
“Why is there a COVID fee? I didn’t know anything about this,” she told us recently.
The fee is labeled as a charge for personal protective equipment.
“I don’t think it’s fair unless you’re told and you can then make a decision. I did not have the choice and they just billed it to me,” she said.
Carrie is far from being alone. Since March, Florida’s Attorney General’s office has received more than 70 complaints about COVID-19 charges by dentists and assisted living facilities, according to department spokesperson Kylie Mason. The complaints are about fees for COVID-19 related charges that range from personal protective equipment to the delivery of meals. According to Mason, the office is investigating each complaint to determine “whether the fee was adequately disclosed or whether a potential violation of law occurred.”
Across the country, dentists and physicians are struggling to make ends meet amid a virus that continues to spread. Recently the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a press release warning that doctors are under threat with revenues down and PPE costs up. Federal funding, which helped offset costs to patients early on, has run out, and not all insurance providers cover the extra charges.
“More economic relief is needed now by Congress,” said AMA President Dr. Susan R. Bailey.
The American Dental Association is also advocating for more money.
Dr. Rudy Liddell, a Brandon dentist, is former President of the Florida Dental Association.
“Some offices have taken the PPE to the extreme. They’ve put in air handling systems and filters and everybody is wearing gowns and N95 masks. That does add considerable cost to every appointment,” said Liddell, who is currently not charging extra COVID fees at his practice.
Asked why dentists aren’t all disclosing the fees to patients upfront, Liddell responded “that I can’t answer. I think it’s incumbent upon my colleagues to communicate that to their patients.”
Liddell believes the extra charges will continue for another six to eight months or when a vaccine is approved and used to help combat the virus’ spread. If patients aren’t told of fees, he advises patients to ask in advance.
“We struggle so much to create all the goodwill that we do that it seems silly to throw it away and not have those conversations,” said Liddell.