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Such a “Sleazy” Company

About Delta Dental

[By Darrell K. Pruitt; DDS]


“A contract provision that holds dentists to Delta’s maximum allowed fee for non-covered services will affect all of Delta’s Premier and Preferred Provider Organization participating dentists throughout the country by January 2011″ (my emphasis).

“Delta Caps Rates Nationally for Two Networks”

I copied the line from an American Dental Association News online article by Arlene Furlong’s article is titled “Delta caps rates nationally for two networks.”


This means that if a Delta preferred provider wishes to make up for the profit lost from providing Delta customers 25% discounts on dentistry, doing more cosmetic dentistry will no longer help keep the doors open.  Delta is telling its providers that it will demand discounts on everything for its customers. 

Discount Factor Costs

How much does a 25% discount cut into a dentist’s pay?  Overhead in dental practices typically run about 65%.  Do the math.  If the net profit is 35%, and Delta knocks off 25% the dentist’s fee; that means the dentist takes a 70% cut in pay to treat Delta patients.  How happy do you think dentists are to see Delta patients who show up for appointments? You guessed it.  Delta Dental preferred providers are disagreeable already, according to Doctor Oogle (www.doctoroogle.com), a Patient Driven Referral Site [PDRS]. 

The Delta Dental Rankings

To see how Delta Dental preferred providers rank in patient satisfaction against all other dentists, pick a few names off of Delta’s list and see where they fall on DR. Oogle’s ranking.  I recently saw such a study involving Austin, Texas dentists from almost a year ago.  The Delta dentists’ ranks averaged 206 out of 297 Austin dentists listed on the site.  That is the bottom 30%.  One could say the 70% cut in pay buys Delta Dental clients dental work from the most unpopular 30% of dentists; interesting coincidence.

Cogent Thoughts 

Think about this way: In a little more than two years, if a dentist’s practice consists entirely of Delta Dental patients, the doctor cannot raise fees at all.  What makes leaders of Delta think they can get away with tyranny in the land of the free? 

Furlong further writes: “Tom Dolatowski, Delta’s vice president of marketing and communication, estimates that some 75 percent of dentists nationally are participating in the Delta Dental Premier plan, while some 25-30 percent are participating in the Delta Dental PPO plan.”

That’s how; effective sales techniques

Delta Dental is Simply a Sleazy Company. 

This spring, at the Southwest Dental Conference in Dallas, Delta Dental employees encouraged me and other dentists to apply for NPI numbers.  NPI application forms were prominently displayed in Delta’s booth.  The Delta saleswoman who covers the east side of Fort Worth, my neighborhood, said, “You don’t want to wait until the last minute.  May 23rd is the [final] deadline.”  (The deadline had been delayed a few times).

Then she and other Delta employees emphatically agreed that the NPI number will soon become a licensure requirement for all Texas dentists anyway.  That is an unethical and unlawful lie – condoned, if not encouraged by the leaders of Delta Dental to enhance corporate profits using deception.  Everyone knows that the NPI number helps nobody but insurance companies.


There is no question that Delta Dental desperately wants dentists to volunteer for NPI numbers.  When a dentist applies for the number it gives Delta permission to mine the uninformed dentist’s “Freedom of Information Act-disclosable” data from dental claims.  Delta will use its proprietary algorithms to rate the dentist. Then Delta will display the dentist’s value to society on an Internet website. This way Delta can direct its clients to the best neighborhood dentists according to Delta’s preferences – but not necessarily the patients’. 

The fact that Delta’s customers generally don’t like Delta’s dentists means that the last thing Delta wants published is patients’ opinions – like those in DR. Ogle.


In my opinion, Delta Dental is such a sleazy company. What is your opinion?

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com


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12 Responses

  1. The Gauntlet,

    I openly challenge any Delta Dental representative to discuss their product. We can do it here and now – no formalities and no committee-approved talking points. I would warn the representative to leave those at home.

    You’ve got an eager crowd waiting on your response, Delta. Many are your current customers, potential customers and your preferred providers. Come on out into transparency. Be accountable.

    Darrell K. Pruitt DDS


  2. Managed Care or Dental Homes
    [You can’t have both]

    For more on this topic:


    Darrell Pruitt; DDS


  3. Transparency and Accountability

    This week I succeeded in freezing Delta Dental out of today’s marketplace indefinitely by holding part-time employee Ari Adler accountable to deception Delta put him up to telling consumers. Poor Ari shouldn’t expect anyone from Delta to come to his defense. Dinosaurs are insensitive cowards.

    Considering that Adler is as defenseless as he is naive, do you think my aggression is unfair?

    I read some of the stuff Ari has written on his blog. He is a nice guy. I will share with you that I found it difficult to rub his nose in his mess.

    Ari Adler also teaches PR at a college in Michigan. When I consider that my actions will likely cause him embarrassment in front of some of his students, it bothers me some. Nevertheless, I posted this today. I cannot be concerned about the hurt feelings of an employee whose credibility is sacrificed for the company.

    “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”
    – Thomas Paine

    Darrell K. Pruitt; DDS


  4. “We put our dentists thorough a credentialing process and provide quality assurance. That means if a dentist does a filling that should last a certain amount of time and it doesn’t, they have to fix it without charging the network or the patients.”

    -Ari Adler
    Representing Delta Dental

    How many new clients has Delta Dental already attracted with their bold guarantee of dentists’ work?

    As the numbers mount, I think there could soon be a class-action lawsuit spurred by angry, misled Delta Dental clients unless someone retracts Ari Adler’s sales pitch.

    As you could probably guess, for my part, I intend to spread the word about the first guarantee in dental care from a discount dentistry broker in the history of the nation. I find this an exciting frontier, especially since law enforcement lags in controlling the avarice of slow-moving opportunists. I can confidently say that very few dentists respect Delta Dental. Delta has been sleazy a long, long time.

    A year ago, while walking through the exhibit hall at the Southwest Dental Conference in Dallas, I noticed National Provider Identifier (NP) application forms prominently displayed at the Delta Dental booth. The Delta saleswoman who covers the east side of Fort Worth, my neighborhood, pushed me hard to fill out an application. “You don’t want to wait until the last minute. May 23rd is the [final] deadline.” (The deadline had been delayed a few times because of countless CMS blunders).

    I already knew by then that the ten-digit identifying number does nothing to improve dental care, and that once a dentist applies, one cannot back out. By Jan. 2008, I also knew that foul-ups concerning the NPI had already delayed physicians’ payments for almost a year. That means that the number which was meant to “speed” payments, doesn’t – causing harm to dentists’ patients by needlessly increasing the cost of care. Anyone can see that it is counter to the Hippocratic Oath to even listen to Delta Dental representatives.

    When I resisted applying, she and other Delta employees emphatically agreed that the NPI number will soon become a licensure requirement for all Texas dentists anyway. I later checked. She lied.

    This comment will also be submitted to Ari Adler to be posted on his blog, 5Ws. This will not end well for anyone associated with Delta Dental. I promise.

    Here is my advice: Retract the guarantee or defend it. A retraction would cut Delta’s losses, while defense from Delta would make for some swell entertainment.

    D. Kellus Pruitt; DDS


  5. An Equal-Time Offer,

    According to his blog, Ari Adler, from Okemos, Michigan, United States, is a former newspaper reporter; now a media-relations professional and an adjunct university instructor.


    In the interest of equal time, we now publically invite Mr. Adler, in open letter format, to rebut dentist Darrell K. Pruitt of Fort Worth Texas, regarding his scathing comments on Mr. Adler’s apparent employer, Delta Dental.

    Alternative representatives from Delta Dental are also invited to participate in any forum, to the extent of their comfortable level.

    Remember, “a charge unanswered, is a charge considered valid until disclaimed otherwise.”

    Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA

    Kate Gerlesits
    Delta Dental Plans Association
    630 574-6994

    Angela Feig
    The Meyocks Group
    515 327-3425


  6. Dr. Darrell Pruitt,

    I have been reading your posts and comments – very interesting stuff until they come close to being demeaning. Then they are just plain creepy.

    Now, there’s a pretty serious article about Yelp, which has become the dominant player in restaurant and service reviews in the San Francisco Bay Area, in a local alternative weekly. The East Bay Express called it; Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0.

    Now, according to industry blogger Matthew Holt, recently Yelp has seen a couple of its reviewers sued for reviews about health care providers (both chiropractors), as the issue about what reviewers, pundits and citizen-journalists like us can say online. And, the legalities are probably still to be worked out.

    And so, as much as I applaud your right to free speech [and tenacity] and look forward to more contributions, you might wish to use more judicious wording in the future. Otherwise; right on!



  7. Sorry I creeped you out, Sherlock. I very carefully consider every word I post.

    You might be interested in reading part 1 of the thread “Dental Health 2.0 that I just submitted to ME-P.


    Now that you mention it, it is sort of creepy. Thanks for your feedback. I am rarely honored with a challenge.



  8. Wow. This is actually sort of sad. I suddenly feel the human impact of the cute games I play with the seriousness of a child. Becky (beckyjohns) is an enthusiastic PR intern at Delta Dental, and I have put her on a very public spot on Twitter on her very first day.

    Depending on how she handles transparency can arguably have permanent consequences in her career. After speed-reading Ari Adler’s congratulations to Becky, it is probably a good thing that I quickly squeezed off a heat-seeking missive on Twitter before I read her sweet, innocent tweets – so full of hope. Otherwise, I might have held back. It doesn’t make me feel any better that her co-workers all seem to be so happy at Delta Dental, and elated that Becky was selected to intern with them. All the while, the leaders of Delta care about the reputations of their PR employees even less than they care about the oral health of their clients.

    To make myself feel better about picking on such an innocent newbie, I have to hope that because of something I might say, Becky will look for kinder employment somewhere else sooner than later. Regardless, I wish her luck.

    Here is what Adler posted today that attracted my attention:

    aribadler Congratulations to @beckyjohns, the new Corporate Communications intern at Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Welcome aboard!
    -about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck

    Here is what I hurriedly sent to Becky as soon as I read Ari Adler’s tweet:
    Proots@beckyjohns Welcome aboard, Becky. Ari Adler said on DrBicuspid that Delta Dental guarantees its preferred providers’ fillings. T or F?
    -about 1 hour ago from web in reply to beckyjohns

    I must focus on this fact: Delta Dental is a sleazy company.

    Darrell K. Pruitt; DDS


  9. Tomorrow is Ornery Friday

    I’m considering how I should celebrate civil disobedience this week. The choices get more interesting all the time. I love posting challenging comments on Fridays. In my giddier moments of grandeur, I imagine how the early Monday morning gut-checks help good ol’ boys reassess what adds value to their lives and what does not.

    As a follow-up to a stunt I pulled on Delta Dental Plans Association last Friday, on October 12, three days ago, I posted “Delta CEO Kim E. Volk cannot hide” on DentistryiQ


    I am certain that Ms. Volk is aware that she indeed has no place to hide, and she blames me. What’s more, if she is not reading these words even as you are reading them, then she is carelessly irresponsible as well. The very brand of the largest managed dental care broker in the nation is being challenged, and the CEO has known for months that she is going to have to answer to me if she wants to move her company forward in the market. In my admittedly large opinion, my butt is that huge of an obstacle for Delta. If we are ever privy to Delta’s office memos, I bet ten dollars that history will show that in the last couple of weeks the PR issues I have shared on the Internet have significantly interfered with Delta’s expensive lobbying efforts that are paid for with healthcare dollars. Even if one can’t tell it from reading the surface, Delta is desperately swimming upstream for survival.

    Volk still hasn’t turned her head. Like a headstrong striper on a hook, she’s got run left in her.

    I must reveal that I erred earlier when I said I addressed my question about Delta Dental’s guarantee directly to Delta officials on the “friends” section of the Advance Oral Health Facebook – a social network dominated by Delta. It is called the “fans” section. There is no “friends” section.


    However, it doesn’t make much difference what anyone calls it now. Hours ago, someone at AOH determined that I was neither fan nor friend, and deleted my carefully worded question without warning or notice. With the click of a mouse, my work unceremoniously disappeared just as it did when I was kicked off of the Texas Dental Association’s Facebook. However, the AOH Facebook officials didn’t kick me off. As a matter of fact, my two other comments on their Website still remain, and as far as I can tell, AOH wants more of the same.

    I already mentioned that in the “discussion” section, I pointed out to AOH officials that nobody has responded to their question from July 9 which asks readers to describe what they like about their dental benefits. This is the only topic on the discussion page. Talk about an information vacuum begging to be filled!

    I haven’t yet mentioned to sports fans that on October 9, I also nailed a comment on the AOH Wall in response to a claim by PR specialist Janis Oshensky in an article she posted this summer in the run-up to HITECH legislation. Ms. Oshensky says that favoring Delta Dental is good for the nation because somehow paying a managed care broker plus a dentist will make dental work both cheaper and of higher quality than can be achieved by simply paying dentists fair, free market wages:

    “You make good points, Janis Oshensky, although I don’t agree with using a child’s death to sell Delta Dental benefits.”

    However, I agree with your argument that it is vey important to preserve dental homes. As Delta representative Dr. Maxwell Anderson once said, ‘Changing dentists causes fillings.’”

    Within hours both Oshensky and Anderson fled the AOH Facebook.

    The link to Oshensky’s article in which she groveled on Delta Dental’s behalf for political favor is the most recent official post on the AOH Facebook, it is two months old and I don’t think Oshensky can be counted on to post anything more anywhere on the Internet as long as I’m hanging around. That hurts Delta because until a dozen friendly articles come along to push my October 9 comment on down the page, my barbed comment cannot be missed by the other 98 AOH fans.

    Alas, once more, nothing flashy is dangling in the fans’ pool of the Advance Oral Health Facebook. I’ll drop something fresh soon and see if I can get a nibble.

    D. Kellus Pruitt; DDS


  10. Why dentists hate Delta CEO Thomas Fleszar

    Three days ago, Julie Frey posted an article titled “Dental Insurance: Few Fans Among Dentists” on Dental Practice Marketing and Management Blog, hosted by Jim Du Molin.


    In a survey recently completed by TheWealthyDentist.com, It was determined that 90% of dentists consider dental insurance as “the enemy.” As is often the case, I learned more from the responses than from the article itself. In the comments which followed, Dr. Griff Murphey, a dentist from Fort Worth, said:

    “Oh, they are awful. I was taught not to violate the oblique ridge of an upper molar and to treat pit caries conservatively (and THAT was 35 years ago!) and you’d think I was a THIEF. I was also taught to do perio charting and treat periodontal disease and they don’t allow that; really. I’ve taken to sending them photos of the calculus and they still don’t believe it. I’ve freely told my patients, ‘If your insurance carrier was a dentist, you could sue it for malpractice.’”

    A few hours later, Mr. Vito Dunkleman took exception to both the results of the TWD study and to Dr. Murphey’s criticism of the dental insurance industry. This gives us the rare opportunity to better understand the mind set of those who lead dental benefits companies. Dunkleman’s response is worth dissecting simply because not many like him feel as free to open up on the Internet:

    “These 9 out of 10 dentists should check and see how much of their income is generated because of and through dental insurance. If dental insurance simply vanished what do you think would happen to their income? Also, please keep in mind that for every honest dentist who gets the run around…and yes they do get jerked around by insurance companies…often…there are two others gaming the system. Take Dr. Murphey above. What does that picture of calculus mean? That you should get $1000 for a cleaning? A picture of calculus does not necessarily mean your scaling claim should be paid doctor! And please, let’s be honest, sure the insurance company is concerned with profit, and the doctors aren’t? HA!!”

    I find Vito Dunkleman refreshingly transparent. It takes blind devotion to one’s employer as well as courage to defend an indefensible position. It’s called taking a hit for the team.

    In the opening statement of his rebuttal to Dr. Murphey, it is easy to assume that Mr. Dunkleman represents an unnamed insurance company that 90% of us probably despise. This stakeholder’s groveling plea that my profession somehow owes something to the insurance industry for dentistry’s success is nothing new. In fact, this has been a traditional committee-approved talking point for at least 3 years. I personally have heard more than one dental benefits company executive say exactly the same thing at the ADA’s annual National Benefits Conferences. In 2007 and 2008, nobody in ADA Headquarters protested the statement, but it was after all, a benefits conference in ADA Headquarters. Vito Dunkleman is special because going into detail on the Internet is no big deal to him. He’s fearless. I like that.

    “If dental insurance simply vanished what do you think would happen to their income?” Since 90% of the dentists who have to deal with insurers’ greed and unaccountability don’t like them, Dunkleman’s position is not unlike rationalizing an unfair landowner’s treatment of a sharecropper on land neither actually owns.

    If all dental insurance disappeared tomorrow, by Thursday, Americans would still need dental treatment – not dental insurance. What the dental industry needs is fair pricing, and that will never occur as long as dental insurance actuary wizards are interfering with competition in the free market. Dentistry plus insurance premiums always costs more than just dentistry.

    This summer, I read that Okemos, Michigan-based Delta Dental CEO Thomas Fleszar was paid $3.9 million in salary, benefits and expenses according to Delta’s 2007 tax filing as a “non-profit” corporation. I don’t think dental insurance executives are as important to dentistry as they think they are. And “non-profit” is deceiving.


    Mr. Dunkleman: “Also, please keep in mind that for every honest dentist who gets the run around…and yes they do get jerked around by insurance companies…often…there are two others gaming the system.”

    As a dentist, I’m flattered by Dunkleman’s estimation that only half of dentists are dishonest compared with 90% of his colleagues. All I can say is, if Delta Dental, BCBSTX, United Concordia and others weren’t around, there would be no system at all to jerk us around in the first place when we attempt to collect payment already owed us. If a business is paid at the time of service as is natural in a free market, I am of the opinion that customers cannot be successfully gamed without being severely punished. On the other hand, dental insurance executives will always be deaf, dumb and blind millionaires insulated from accountability by their own bureaucracy and employees like Dunkleman – who thinks they invented dentistry.

    “Take Dr. Murphey above. What does that picture of calculus mean? That you should get $1000 for a cleaning? A picture of calculus does not necessarily mean your scaling claim should be paid doctor!”

    Did I mention that I consider Mr. Vito Dunkleman a very courageous man? Even if Mr. Dunkleman is playing the ill-advised part of a shill, he stepped over the line of civility when he accused Dr. Murphey of being a dishonest dentist. I know Dr. Murphey because we’ve practiced in the same town for decades. Mr. Dunkleman owes Dr. Murphey a humble apology. I wish I knew which sleazy company Mr. Dunkleman works for. I think I personally could do something about that unfortunate threat to the welfare of American consumers.

    There is nothing I can say which would add anything to the transparency of Vito Dunkleman’s closing statement.

    “And please, let’s be honest, sure the insurance company is concerned with profit, and the doctors aren’t? HA!!” – Vito Dunkleman.

    D. Kellus Pruitt; DDS


  11. Negotiating with good ol’ boys for fun and profit!

    Day after day, year after year I show my readers that one person working alone and not anonymously can successfully negotiate policy with bureaucrats in very large companies just by speaking loud Truth. I have often discovered that the larger a company is – the deeper the good ol’ boys hide – and the greater the information vacuum. If one can create content, one can fill that vacuum. That’s just one of many good ol’ boy vulnerabilities.

    For example, Delta Dental is probably the largest (and sleaziest) discount dentistry broker in the nation, yet I easily branded several of its officers in articles which show up on their first pages in a search. (Kim E. Volk, Thomas Fleszar, Janis Oshensky…). You may never hear them complain, but I have caused these Delta Dental officers permanent damage to their careers because they each failed to show me the respect I demand from the company that cheats my patients. That is marketplace negotiations, sports fans. And all I do is hold bureaucrats personally accountable. They hate that.

    As I learn even more nasty tricks of unconventional PR warfare, I get better and better at extracting concessions. What’s more, my successes intimidate succeeding targets. It’s always win-win for me because the more my targets resist negotiations, the more it entertains me.

    Here is a not unexpected, and entertaining concession from DrBicuspid.com and its parent company IMV Publishing: Less than 24 hours after blocking me from their Facebook (for posting “Good morning, DrBicuspid,” an anonymous officer of DrBicuspid.com read what I had to say on Pruitt’s Platform and changed his mind about being big enough to play the role of a tyrant. (See “D. Kellus Pruitt is banned from DrBicuspid’s Facebook.”)


    The anonymous officer repealed my banishment from the DrBicuspid Facebook and granted me the privilege to post whatever I want on DrBicuspid’s Facebook page, and he will never again attempt to stand between me and freedom of speech. Now that’s negotiating!

    Temporary censorship happens to me often. Recently, an anonymous moderator of the Website for the Physical Therapist Association of Washington State (PTWA) also quickly changed her mind about censorship once I pointed out that such authoritarian reactions provide nothing but entertainment for sports fans. (See “PTWA censors D. Kellus Pruitt DDS – Rookie mistake”)


    My scathing article is now PTWA’s 7th hit on Google. If you feel sorry for PTWA, whatever you do, don’t click on the link. That might return the comment to their 1st hit. If you feel otherwise, click away.

    Grab voice. Make difference. Have fun.

    D. Kellus Pruitt; DDS


  12. Is Delta Dental lying to Texas dentists today?

    @ADANews and @theTDA: You’ll never guess who posted GM’s Susan Docherty’s quote:”If you start with the consumer, you’ll do the right thing.”

    It was Delta Dental’s PR expert Ari Adler. Isn’t that hilarious?

    Delta Dental is the sleaziest discount dentistry broker that I have ever criticized. Delta is the one pushing for limiting non-covered fees.

    Here’s something else about Delta Dental. At the 2007 Southwest Dental Conference in Dallas, Delta had its reps lie about the NPI number.

    The Delta rep for my area in east Fort Worth told me the NPI number will be a requirement for obtaining or renewing a Texas dental license.

    I imagine Delta opened a booth this morning in San Antonio at the TDA annual convention. I wonder if Delta’s reps still lie to TDA members.

    “‘If you start w/consumer, you’ll do the right thing.’ – GM’s Susan Docherty. Another great lesson for biz!” – Delta Dental’s Ari Adler

    So if starting with the consumer is said to be important by Delta Dental’s PR expert, why does Delta treat dentists so badly?



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