This startup is applying tech innovation to escalating health, dental costs
Author – Emma Campbell
April 26, 2021
Roughly one-in-three Americans lacks dental insurance, and one of the biggest barriers to access is the high cost of dental care. But one Boston startup is looking to fix this problem.
Bento Dental, founded in 2017, brands itself as a “modern alternative to dental insurance.” With Bento Dental, employers, dentists, and patients have entry to an integrated cloud-based platform and an app that works to cut costs and inefficiencies, while increasing access to dental care. That lack of access was detailed in a 2019 research report conducted by DentaQuest titled “Reversible Decay: Oral Health is a Public Health Problem We Can Solve.”
Ram Sudireddy, CEO and founder of Bento Dental, noticed the inefficiencies in the dental health care industry during his time as a serial entrepreneur and founder of such companies as Cimaron Communications and CHiL Semiconductor.
“I didn’t understand when I was running my companies, my employees, every year, their insurance premiums were going up and the care was going down — the deductible is going up, the copay is going up. I didn’t understand what the problem is. And then I figured that there is so much bureaucracy and inefficiencies in the system. So I said, ‘Okay, I need to do some technology innovation here,’” said Sudireddy.
And that technology innovation resulted in a two-sided platform that benefits both providers and members of Bento Dental. The platform allows users to enroll, unenroll, select services, sell plans, and process financials.
With the platform, providers have the ability to customize and create their own plans. Bento uses a pay-as-your-employees-go structure, which means employers only pay for dental care as it’s needed. And any unused benefit dollars stay with the employer, instead of transferring to an insurance company. According to Sudireddy, this results in employers saving approximately 20% to 40% per year on dental costs, if a company switches from Delta Dental or Blue Cross.
Like employers and associations, dentists can also create their own plans. Some other benefits for dentists include competitive fee schedules, direct payments from employers and patients and instant claims processing. If a dentist wants to join the Bento network, Sudireddy said, “based on the ZIP code, they can see our fee schedules. And if they’re happy with what we’re trying to pay them, then they can sign up on our website. Through our portal, they add all their information…they go through a background check, and we approve it. So it’s very simple. It’s not like in the case of Delta Dental, it takes two to three months to become a Delta dentist, with the Bento dentist it takes 24 hours to 48 hours.”
For individuals and families who don’t have access to dental care through an employer or other organization, there’s the Bento app. The Bento app, which is available for free download in the App Store and Google Play, allows members to search for Bento dentists, price check dentists, add family members, view appointments, enroll, access receipts, see plan information, complete payments and add credit cards.
He said, “The app is everything. They have all the information they need so that they don’t have to call anybody for their plan information. So usually in companies, you get a plan once a year — brokers come in and give it to you and everybody throws it out…we provide that app so that anytime you or your family members, your dependents can look at it, and share it with your dentist and see what is covered and what is not covered.”
And just like with employers and associations, individuals and families use a pay-as-they-go structure, this way individuals can save money and only pay for dental care as they need it. Through the app, people can also price check Bento dentists in their area, and determine which dentist fits their budget.
And what’s the most important feature that the company provides? Price transparency.
Bento Dental values price transparency or being upfront about dental care costs to consumers and patients. For employers, associations and members, price transparency comes in the form of no surprise billing—the company will not send random bills or fees at any time. Through the network, members are also able to view providers in their area and compare costs upfront, before they receive dental care.
“We believe that by providing how much it costs, the consumers and patients are empowered to make their own decisions and have the ability to shop around and see if they can save money,” said Sudireddy.
He also said that Bento Dental is the first dental benefits technology platform to be endorsed by the American Dental Association. With this endorsement, it’s clear that Bento Dental has already made an impact on the antiquated dental healthcare system and is moving closer to fulfilling its goal of “providing affordable oral care access to every American hourly employee, full-time employee or retired person.”
Alison Werner is Freelance Writer at BOSTINNO
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