When Brighter launched in 2011, its founder, Jake Winebaum, touted the service’s subscription fees and dental discounts as a cost-effective alternative to dental insurance.
Two years later, he's singing a different tune.
Brighter announced this week that it has scrapped its membership fees in favor of a free service that doles out discounted dental care.
"The subscription model was too similar to the insurance model," Winebaum said. "We were asking people to pay in advance for access to a discount that they didn't know that they needed. That subscription model creates a lot more friction in a healthcare business."
Previously, members could pay $79 a year and get access to discounts of up to 60 percent off procedures.
Now Brighter allows anyone to access their deeply discounted rates for free. The Santa Monica company says people who schedule dentist appointments through Brighter.com can receive up to 50 percent off on services such as cleanings or cavity fillings. That's about the same price insurance companies are charged.
Those without dental insurance can go to Brighter's website, view its discounted prices, select a dentist and book an appointment. When they show up for their appointment, they pay the dentist the pre-negotiated rate.
Brighter charges the dentists an administrative fee for participating in its program, which includes marketing videos posted on the Brighter website and patient reminders.
Winebaum said the dentists like acquiring customers through Brighter because they get paid at the time of service instead of having to wait for a check from insurance companies.
"With this new model, we've developed a much closer relationship with the dentists to better understand how they manage their practices," he said. "That's helped us better design something that works both for dentists and for patients."
Currently, Brighter works with about 350 dentists in Los Angeles. The 20-person company plans to expand to some other parts of California later this year.