Dr. Michael W. Davis maintains a private general practice in Santa Fe, NM. He chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer-Review Committee. Dr. Davis is active in dental care for disadvantaged citizens. His publications are on ethical issues within the dental profession, as well as numbers of clinical research papers.
November 19, 2014
Frequently, the media, non-dentist investigators, and the public ask me, the methods and means of swindles played out with dental x-rays. Most incorrectly assume, that patients are simply given excess numbers of unnecessary radiographs, to increase billing statements.
Both the insurance industry and Medicaid generally pay 100%, for the costs associated with dental x-rays. These third party payers have limits on the frequency and types of radiographs, which they will cover for benefits under their contracts with dental providers. Most dental insurance carriers have computer-generated algorithms, which are triggered when excessive x-rays are taken. Moneys are then not paid out, or immediately recuperated, in the next insurance payment cycle.
Medicaid oversight is generally more lax. However, there is a very real risk with dental x-ray over-billing, that this will be caught by Medicaid oversight mechanisms, even as incompetent as they usually are. Generally, large sums of Medicaid over-payments are generated, and regulators chase down very large sums, well after the fact (“Pay-&-Chase”). Often, only pennies on the dollars are returned to taxpayers. However, it represents a scam with some element of downside risk. As dental Medicaid fraud has become an accepted business model with in the dental industry, swindlers desire to minimize or eliminate regulatory risk.
Today, large interstate corporate dental providers retain former state and federal dental investigators. These corporate dental providers, which are usually beneficially owned by the private equity investment industry (Wall Street parties), have a good idea of which forms of fraud will be potentially investigated, and which methods of fraud will fly under the radar. Regardless, the corporate beneficial owners always retain licensed doctors acting as nominee owners (sham-owners), to assume any potential regulatory liabilities.
Most commonly, we observe the following forms of dental scams with dental radiographs.
Unbundling of X-ray Services
The American Dental Association (ADA) has established a clinical coding system called, “Common Dental Terminology” (CDT). Numerical codes are designated for nearly every possible dental service. This system is updated annually. Every insurance carrier and Medicaid will establish fees for each dental service, for which coverage is provided under their program. One such dental service is called a “complete series of radiographs”, which has a set fee, and CDT code number.