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Wednesday, Jun 12, 2024

Glendale Takes the Crown for Biggest Price Disparity

A dental crown in the city of Glendale may cost $1,150 or just $580. Such price disparities in dentistry are not unique to Glendale, though one recent survey found them to be greatest in that Valley city. The study from Empirica Research and Los Angeles startup Brighter.com found that the average price difference across six dental procedures in that city was a whopping 375 percent. Why? Like medical care, dental care remains highly opaque, with patients afraid to ask their dentist what a procedure costs and dentists reluctant to share such information—until the procedure has been completed and the patient is stuck holding the bill. Empirica compared some 250,000 insurance claims for six procedures in three Los Angeles cities of Santa Monica, Inglewood and Glendale. It also sent mystery shoppers into these cities to learn what dentists charge for the same procedure. The results were startling, said Brighter.com CEO Jake Winebaum, an entrepreneur and former Disney executive who launched FamilyFun magazine in the 1990s and started Brighter.com last year. Empirica found that a comprehensive oral evaluation in Glendale can cost as little as $29 to as much as $180 — a difference of 521 percent; an extraction can cost as little as $50 or $300 — a 500 percent difference. And some of these dentists are less than a quarter mile apart. The huge difference is perhaps even more important in dentistry than it is in medicine, where according to Empirica, some 40 percent of Angelinos lack dental insurance, compared to about 20 percent who lack medical insurance. That means more of the price difference comes out of people’s pockets, said Winebaum. “There is no market dynamic that allows for normal market pressures,” Winebaum said. Brighter.com, which has venture capital funding, is hoping to provide some of that pressure with negotiated contracts with 25,000 dentists nationwide willing to offer discounts of up to 20 to 60 percent off their regular prices. Brighter.com customers can access the discounts through a membership costing $79 to $129 a year. Brighter.com is certainly not alone in trying to bring some transparency to pricing in health care. And it’s certainly not the only one trying to build a business on the opportunity. We can’t blame the company. If we can’t regulate our way to price transparency in health care, we might as well let the free market try. New NICU at Henry Mayo It took more time than the hospital anticipated, but eventually Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital won approval for its new state-of-the-art, $6 million neonatal intensive care unit, which opened to the public on June 4. Three months after the NICU’s official grand opening in February, the 11-bed facility catering to the Santa Clarita Valley’s tiniest patients finally received the blessings of the state Department of Public Health on May 31. The unit has more than 22 pieces of high-tech equipment specifically designed for the care of newborns, including a cool-cap system, which cools babies’ heads to reduce the possibility for brain damage from a temporary reduction in oxygen supply. There are also private rooms with monitors, allowing for constant observation from the nursing station. Family members can visit the infants anytime. Also part of the unit is an isolation room with negative pressure capabilities and a semi-private room which can be used for twins or for the monitoring of a critically ill newborn. The unit was made possible with funding from the Ullman Foundation. In an unexpected move, state officials also approved the expansion of Henry Mayo’s cardiac care services the same day they passed the NICU, prompting hospital officials to call May 31 a “rare but exciting day” in the history of the hospital. The state agency approved the hospital’s new interventional cardiac catheterization program as well as its cardiothoracic surgery service. The expansion should help Henry Mayo address the growing problem of heart disease in the community with services such as open heart surgery, valve replacement and coronary interventions, hospital officials said. With the threat of reduced reimbursements and potentially declining admissions, hospitals have a tough enough time these days fulfilling their mission of caring for their communities. It’s nice to see one hospital in the community be able to celebrate a day of big wins. Staff Reporter Judy Temes can be reached at (818)316-3123 or by email at [email protected].

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