DENTAL CARE: IPAs Picking Up Steam Among CA Dentists
An increasing number of California dentists are forming independent practice associations, following in the "steps of doctors, who turned to independent practice associations years ago ... as managed care took root." With IPAs, groups of dentists "bypass dental plans by negotiating deals directly with large employers." Ann Emery of the California Dental Association said, "Dentists are doing it for the same reasons that physicians did it -- primarily to negotiate some better rates." IPA supporters also contend that the arrangements give dentists "increased freedom."
The nonprofit Sacramento Dental IPA will begin marketing its service in July. Groups also are forming in Contra Costa and Kern counties, according to employee benefits consultant Annette Wimmer of Legacy Enterprises. Dentists in Stockton and Yuba City formed IPAs less than two years ago.
Groups Won't Replace Insurance Plans
IPA advocates said the arrangements are not designed to "overtake insurers," such as San Francisco-based Delta Dental Plan of California, which "covers one of every three mouths statewide." How much employers can save by contracting with dental IPAs remains to be seen. Delta Dental spokesperson Jeff Album explained that while IPAs do eliminate overhead charges by dental plans, they "may lack crucial" controls to prevent dentists from performing "unnecessary, costly procedures." Album went so far as to "suggest that there is no savings to be had" under IPAs. But Wimmer said controlling costs is a top priority for IPAs. The Sacramento group, for example, will help employers track the cost of procedures under the IPA compared to industry averages (Young, Sacramento Bee, 6/22).