It’s like Netflix for your teeth: Easthampton dentist office offers subscription-based dentist coverage

  • Dentists Eric Castenson, left, of Amity Street Dental in Amherst, and Thomas Cleary Jr., of Cleary Family Dentistry in Easthampton, talk at Amity Street Dental. Cleary has started a subscription-based coverage program and Amity Street Dental is one of its members. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dentists Thomas Cleary Jr., of Cleary Family Dentistry in Easthampton, and Eric Castenson, of Amity Street Dental in Amherst, talk Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019 at Amity Street Dental. Cleary has started a subscription-based coverage program and Amity Street Dental is one of its members. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dentists Eric Castenson, left, of Amity Street Dental in Amherst, and Thomas Cleary Jr., of Cleary Family Dentistry in Easthampton, talk at Amity Street Dental. Cleary has started a subscription-based coverage program and Amity Street Dental is one of its members. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dentists Thomas Cleary Jr., of Cleary Family Dentistry in Easthampton, and Eric Castenson, of Amity Street Dental in Amherst, talk at Amity Street Dental. Cleary has started a subscription-based coverage program and Amity Street Dental is one of its members. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 1/12/2020 11:17:55 PM
Modified: 1/12/2020 11:17:11 PM

Every month they paid $100 for dental coverage through their insurance company, Southampton retirees Laurence and Joyce Mase felt their teeth chatter.

“Overall what the supplements offer, especially for seniors, is almost nothing,” Laurence Mase said about the dental plan.

Then along came a new alternative created by the family behind Easthampton dentist office Cleary Family Dentistry. For a monthly fee, the Mase family could sign up for a subscription-based dental plan that aims to provide coverage at a cheaper price and removes the insurance company from the equation.

Unlike traditional dental insurance, also known as a preferred provider organization, the in-house subscription plan the Cleary dentist office offers, called Cirrus Dental, works in much the same way as a loyalty or subscription service that many patients are already familiar with.

“It’s kind of like a Netflix or cellphone subscription,” said Dr. Tom Cleary, who owns Cleary Family Dental with his father.

The Cirrus Dental subscription service created by Tom Cleary and his brother, Peter, comes with no deductibles, maximum coverage or copayments. Instead, patients pay a monthly fee of either $30 or $60 to receive treatment, depending on the level of coverage they prefer.

The idea of a dentist office offering in-house dental coverage, while not new, has grown considerably in the last few years as dentists and insurance companies butt heads over reimbursement rates, patient copays and coverage options.

“I realized that coverage that seemed fair to the patient, doctor and insurance company didn’t exist,” Tom said.

It’s this friction that prompted the Clearys to explore additional coverage options for their patients and for their business.

After studying subscription-based plans offered by other dentists, the Clearys launched Cirrus last May. To date, about 35 patients at Cleary dental have signed up, and the company has contracted with 37 dentists in the region who are now offering subscription services through Cirrus.

How the plan works

Cirrus offers two plans for patients:

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>For $30 a month, patients can buy a preventative care plan. This plan covers semi-annual exams and cleanings, as well as routine X-rays.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull> For $60 a month, patients get the preventative care package, with the balance funneled into a trust called a “nest egg.” This trust can fund further care, such as fillings, whitenings and root canals, to name a few.

Cirrus’ website says such a plan is better than traditional insurance because patients only pay for what they use, and their benefits don’t expire every year. That’s because patients are refunded their unused funds if they decide to unenroll or switch to a different dentist, unlike PPO plans.

“Let’s say you don’t use it, all that money evaporates,” Mase said, regarding traditional insurance.

Cirrus also claims to eliminate the costly administration and hassle of traditional dental plans, and there aren’t questions about deductibles and coverage exclusions.

The Clearys predict enrolled dentists will collect an average of 32% more per patient than if they get paid through insurance, and that patients will pay an average of $900 less each year. In return, Cirrus will acquire 3.5% of all transactions.

Additionally, Tom Cleary asserted that what makes its model particularly unique is the network of dentists produced as dentists sign up with Cirrus. As the network grows, the Clearys believe other dentists that did not immediately enroll will reconsider, he said. Dentists enroll through an online portal.

On why some dentists declined to enroll, Tom said they just want to see how this pans out first.

Patients can sign up thorugh the Cirrus website, and their benefits immediately kick in with the first payment. Peter Cleary said it should take no more than five minutes to enroll, and if anyone wanted to unenroll, it takes just a few mouse clicks.

“We want to make things as easy as possible for everyone,” he said.

The idea for a subscription based dental plan was sparked through Tom’s research into the economics of large PPOs. By personally pulling tax returns of large dental insurance companies, he found that companies were retaining up to 40% of premium costs, rather than sharing that money with dentists. Combined with benefit cuts, the Clearys were inspired to rethink dental care.

“We think this is a nationwide program,” said Thomas Cleary.

“There’s already 15 or 16 states where we could implement it easily,” Peter said, referring to states with similar regulations to Massachusetts like Florida, Colorado and Virginia.




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