Deleon Moore had a cavity, then a root canal, and then a crown. He didn’t have to travel far to see a dentist, even though the state pays his insurance.
People like Moore, on the state Charter Oak plan (through Connecticut’s Community Health Network), as well as families with kids on the HUSKY plan sometimes have to drive an hour or more to find a dentist who’ll see them in Connecticut.
But Moore, who lives in New Haven, found he could simply cross the town line to West Haven, at a practice called Connecticut Dental Associates (CDA)—and get the same high-end treatment that people with private dental insurance receive.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been to a dentist,” he said, leaning over the receptionist counter in the spotless, modern looking front room of CDA, waiting to check out. “I was way overdue.”
You don’t have to wait long to get in to CDA, said Moore. INow he brings his 5-year-old son for check-ups, too.
“Not many dental places take this kind of insurance,” he explained.
You Shouldn’t Have To Live In Darien
Dentist Michael Weiner opened CDA in January of 2008 with the unconventional idea that he could succeed in the business without excluding poorer patients. Other dentists complain they can’t make enough money because state reimbursements are too low.
Weiner, who’s 45, lives in Westville. He has been a dentist for 20 years. He has separate practices in Fairfield and Darien. A year ago he decided to invest in renovating the West Haven practice, expanding the offices and introducing new equipment. Now with seven multi-specialty dentists, the practice serves 70 to 80 patients a day. On a busy day, it serves 100 or more.
“I wanted to make this an upscale, high tech sort of place,” Weiner said, sporting a white coat and sitting in a small office room at the practice on Boston Post Road. “People should come in and be treated well. You shouldn’t have to live in Darien to get state of the art equipment.”
When Weiner started, the office was one fourth the size it is today. Today, entering its glass doors on the lower level, you might actually think you were in Darien. The waiting room, spotless and lined with comfortable chairs, is complete with a flat screen television.
“All the equipment is high-tech,” Weiner said, pointing to a panoramic X-ray machine in a back room of the offices. As he walked through, three of four dental chairs were occupied.
New Haven resident Mike Wallen was getting a cavity filled in.
“It was a deep one,” he said, smiling after the dentist finished up.
By the time it’s finished with renovations, said Weiner, CDA will have 12 dental chairs. In addition, there are five private rooms for surgery and other complicated procedures.
“Everyone should be treated the same regardless of what kind of insurance they have,” Weiner said. “Everyone should feel comfortable getting dental work done.”
Under the Chopping Block
Under HUSKY and Charter Oak, patients can be stuck waiting for months. They can end up at dental offices with out-of-date equipment. And most full scale practices don’t accept Medicaid in general (including HUSKY).
A CDA appointment reminder card reads: “We accept HUSKY, Medicaid, Saga and most private insurances.”
But state subsidized insurance coverage is at risk, Weiner explained. “They were always under the chopping block under Gov. Rell,” he said. “I don’t even know what’s going to happen this year.”
CDA offers a sliding payment scale for patients with no insurance. And the practice isn’t just for patients without or on state health insurance—all are welcome. More than 95 percent of patients hear about the practice by word of mouth, Weiner said, though he did advertise on buses in New Haven and elsewhere.
CDA also works closely with Yale, the Hospital of St. Raphael and the Hill Health Center, accepting dental emergency referrals from all three. They also see patients from homes for the disabled and halfway homes.
“One of the reasons I opened up this practice was that I saw a real need in the community,” Weiner said.
And to address that need, Weiner and CDA take a bit of a hit. They’re certainly not pleading poverty, he said. But they’re not making as much money as they could.
“State insurance pays out about half as much as regular insurance,” said Nancy Velasquez, who oversees the front desk at CDA and manages insurance payments.
For example, a private insurance company will pay on average $200 for a simple tooth extraction for a child, said Velasquez. The state will pay $115. It’s less for adults—the state only pays out 52 percent of what it would pay for a child for adult dental services. For an adult tooth extraction: $59.80.
The payout process for CDA through state insurance is also more complicated.
“It takes a little longer and a little more patience, but we know what hoops we have to jump through,” she said.
CDA is doing just fine financially, Weiner says. The office is typically full. Payouts from patients with state insurance are offset by those with private insurance.
“Our only concern is that the state will continue to lower the payout rates,” said Velasquez.
Everyone gets nervous about going to the dentist, Weiner said. “It’s intense. We just want kids and others to have a good experience.”
So part of CDA’s mission is to educate the community about dental care. It has connected with day care centers in the area, instructing kids from a young age about the importance of dental hygiene.
“We want to get kids in here before they start to have problems,” he said, pointing to the increasingly proven connection between medical and dental health. “Their first experiences should be pleasant, or they end up scarred for life.”
It’s important to up people’s “dental IQ,” he said.
“Word needs to get out there,” Weiner said. “We’re a place of high standards, and we’re here for the community.”