Monday, March 13, 2017

Comfort Dental Agrees to Washington State Permanent Cease and Desist

By: Michael W Davis, DDS, Guest Contributor
Dr. Michael DavisDr. Michael W. Davis maintains a general dental practice in Santa Fe, NM. He serves as chairperson for Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer-Review. Dr. Davis also provides a fair amount of dental expert legal work for attorneys. 

Comfort Dental Group, et al, a Colorado corporate dental entity has signed and accepted a Consent Agreement (permanent cease and desist order) with the Washington State Department of Health, on February 28, 2017. Comfort Dental admits engaging in the unlicensed and unlawful practice of dentistry. Comfort Dental was active in the sales and management of so-called sub-franchised dental practices, outside the bounds of Washington statutes.

Unlicensed parties, and not duly licensed dentists of dental practices, were selecting dental laboratories for patients, dental supplies, office supplies, & janitorial services. The dental corporation's restrictive covenant on doctors was deemed overly restrictive and outside the bounds Washington statues. Further, Comfort Dental's restrictions on the ability of a doctor to transfer their practice ownership was also deemed unlawful. The 5% "royalty" fee Comfort Dental charged licensed doctors on gross collections was determined unlawful, as it allowed Comfort Dental an excessive beneficial ownership in dental practices.

Respondents of Comfort Dental agreed to Pay a fine of $340,000, agreed to the permanent cease and desist order to discontinue their unlicensed and unlawful practice of dentistry in Washington, and reform each of their Washington State dentist contracts to comply with state law.
Reporter's note: This outcome in Washington State, in which the dental profession, public and state government stood up for consumer rights, is in stark contrast to Colorado. In Colorado, the dental profession and state legislators capitulated to the interests of corporate dentistry and Comfort Dental.

Reporter's note: Here's an interesting facet to this story. If Comfort Dental fully complies w/ their consent agreement w/in an allotted time frame, their $340,000 fine will be reduced to $25,000. However, in public record evidence submitted in the earlier legal action of Drs Carl & Craig Bahr, verus Comfort Dental, et al. (case now settled & sealed), in an email from Comfort Dental founder & president Dr Rick Kushner, he stated that w/out control of the dental lab, Comfort Dental wouldn't be viable as it is today (loss of corporate control & money). It seems the Comfort Dental business model (as it exists today) may collapse, w/out control of the lab & mandatory lab utilization by franchisees (dentists). This is seemingly at distinct odds w/ expressed terms of the settlement w/ WA State.
Evidence of the earlier cited civil case clearly demonstrated problematic issues w/ the mandated dental laboratory, which was operated by Dr Kushner's brother. One might assume doctors would be free to select what dental lab operated in their patients' best interests. However, that's almost NEVER the case w/ corporate dentistry.
So, now it will come down to a serious effort at state enforcement. Is the WA State AG's office a paper tiger, or a true protector of the public interest & enforcer of the rule of law? We'll see..