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Why The New Brighter.com Is Looking To Modernize Dental Care

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

 

Dental insurance--if you're lucky enough to have it--is complex, doesn't cover very much, and not all that satisfying to patients or dentists--according to Jake Winebaum, the founder and CEO of LA's Brighter (www.brighter.com), which is looking to turn dental insurance on its head. Brighter relaunched its services Monday, so we spoke with Winebaum to learn what the new Brighter is offering to consumers.

What is the new Brighter all about?

Jake Winebaum: Brighter just launched its new, free service yesterday. It will make dental care more accessible and affordable for the fifty percent of Americans who don't have dental insurance, roughly 148 million of them. They're currently having to purchase dental care without any price transparency or negotiating power. We're a free alternative to the broken dental insurance system, and save our patients an average of 53 percent on their dental care needs. What we've done, is we've turned the insurance model on its head. We're leveraging group buying to get pricing which is comparable to those negotiated by the large insurers. But, unlike insurance, it's free. There's no premiums, and no hassles. By eliminating the costs and hassles for dentists, they can pass those savings directly on to patients. We have negotiated pricing for preventative, restorative, emergency, and even cosmetic dentistry, and it's easy to use through either our web or mobile service. You can price a procedure, check on a dentist's reputation, and book online. It's really an innovative new way to improve dental care, and we're starting in LA.

Why the shift away from membership plan?

Jake Winebaum: We changed three major things from what we were doing before. The first was our business model, the second was our network of dentists, and the third was our patient experience. We launched two years ago with a subscription model, but we found that was too similar to the current dental insurance model, where they charge you a fee to access discounted prices. We felt that was not disruptive enough. The healthcare market is the only market where you have to pay to access affordable prices, and it's the only market where you don't see what a service costs you until that service is rendered. Why isn't there free and transparent access? That's what we went out and did. We've built a free, simple alternative to dental insurance. You can access prices comparable to what insurers pay, but without the hassles.

To do that, we had to build a new network. As you know, we originally started Brighter by licensing an existing network from Careington. However, we found that we had to create a new network to offer fair, and affordable prices. We started that effort in LA, and we've been surprised how receptive dentists here to the service. We have over 350 top quality, vetted dentists in LA alone. The direct pay patients we are introducing to them are highly valued. Unlike wit insurance, they don't have the whole hassle of the cost of insurance claims and collecting copays. They also saw that we'd be aggressively marketing both online and offline. We're passing that savings directly to patients in terms of reduced prices.

Finally, there's a dramatically different user experience. There's complete price and quality transparency, plus extreme convenience. Most patients do not view their dental experience in the best light, and we want to change that. We gather rich data on a dentists, including where they got their degree, how many years they have been in practice, and patient reviews, plus what technology they employ in their practice. We also do a video interview, include photographs of their practice, and give them software that integrates with their practice management software, so that they can get real time, appointment inventory, and online appointment scheduling. We're so confident in that experience and quality, that we're offering a 100 percent money back gurantee. So we changed the business model, the network, and the user experience.

It looks like building your network is a big job. Did the prospect of doing that dissuade you from this, and what made you decide to take on that job?

Jake Winebaum: In the initial model, we went out with an existing network. That means we could basically start marketing, right away. But, we found that we just didn't have a great understanding of the market when we used someone else's network. We just didn't have contact with the practices, and didn't have close relationships with providers, to understand what matters to them, to understand how their practices work, and how inefficient things were. By building our own network, as you can imagine, and sitting down with 350 dentists, we learned an awful lot. Our desire is to create a win-win for both the dentist and the patient, where we could create a great patient experience, and give them value, where they could save 50 percent on dental care, while a dentist is getting a patient which is both profitable and attractive to them.

Given the complexity of insurance reimbursement, networks, office overhead, and more, what convinced dentists to take on one more thing--your network--and sign up?

Jake Winebaum: Insurance is really complex, and dental insurance in particular is complex for both the dentist and patient, for anything except preventative care. They are high copays, and low annual maximum benefits for insured patients. What that means, for example, if a patient needs major restorative work, typically the dentist has to submit an insurance claim, then the insurer gets back to the dentist with what they will reimburse, then the dentist has to collect from the patient the remaining amount. All of that is a burden, and a cost to their practice. We estimate that there's a 30 to 40 percent burden for all that back and forth and collections. What we bring to the party is, number one, new patients. We do marketing, and are marketing on KNX, online, in Google search results. You'll see the practices and those dentists in our network. We bring them new patients, and we also have an extensive customer service team, we provide online appointment scheduling, and even help make sure that patients shows up for the visit. Finally, we event handle reminders, telling patients every six months that they need to go back for a cleaning. All of those things take away the administrative burden and costs from the dentist. Finally, the rates we negotiate are actually pretty comparable to insurance companies, in terms of the money they are going to collect. But, the cost and burden they have in dealing with patients is a lot less. That's why they are so attracted to this mode.

How is it you decide to switch direction and make that shift--what triggered the move?

Jake Winebaum: Benchmark came in as a investor, and I'd worked with Bill Gurley on two prior companies, JAMDAT and Business.com, so we had a good relationship. Where Bill's real expertise is in the local marketplaces. Bill has been an investor in Yelp, in companies like Uber, GrubHub, Zillow, and many others. Another one he's an investor in here is DogVacay. He's brought tremendous market expertise. We realized that in trying to launch nationally, that dentistry is not just local, it's hyper-local. You need to do this on a very local basis, find the best local dentist, and find great patients for those dentists. It was not a hard decision, because it was the right decision. If we really wanted to disrupt and provide this access to affordable care, it was the right model to use. Once we made the decision, it was full speed ahead, and you now see what we launched.

You often hear complaints that Los Angeles companies are too much about e-commerce and entertainment. What's also very important about what we're doing, is it's not that. Healthcare is a complicated area, but it's one of the areas the Internet hasn't transformed yet. It's a huge opportunity. We're really round that we're taking on such a big problem, in such an innovative way. It's a testimony to Los Angeles as a great startup community.

Thanks!