As dental offices continue opening up during the pandemic, patients are starting to book appointments for much-needed cleanings and surgeries. But many are being informed of a new fee that has some rankled: an "infection control fee" to cover the costs of the personal protective equipment that dental staff now need to protect themselves and their patients from COVID-19. That includes masks, face shields, gowns, and even air purifying systems. Although Kaiser Health News say the new fee is typically ranging between $10 and $20, some patients who contacted KING 5 in Washington state say they were charged up to $150 for a virus-linked fee for dental surgery. "I was surprised and then annoyed," one patient in Austin, Texas, tells Kaiser after she says she got a pre-visit call from her dentist's office to inform her of the new surcharge.
The American Dental Association spokesperson says it's OK from its perspective for dentists to charge the fee if they disclose it to patients before they come in. Dentists say they don't have much of a choice, because they've already lost months' worth of money due to the shutdown, and because prices have risen significantly on PPE due to demand from other types of health care workers. A rep for an Austin-area dental chain says while a box of 20 masks used to cost $6, that's now the cost of one mask; the Philadelphia Inquirer and CBS Boston note similar steep price hikes. Some insurers are offering to pick up the fees, but others are on the fence. "It's understandable there would need to be more precautions," says a freelance musician in Philadelphia who needs major dental work and isn't sure if she'll be charged the extra fee, per the Inquirer. "But why does it have to be me who foots the bill?" (Read more dentists stories.)