The federal health care reform recently upheld by the Supreme Court requires Americans to obtain some form of health insurance. But dental benefits aren’t part of the equation, giving no boost to the dental industry.

However, the reform also tries to lower health care costs by increasing competition and transparency in pricing – an approach a local entrepreneur believes can work in dentistry.

Brighter.com, a Santa Monica dental network started last year by Jake Winebaum, aims to give patients access to a wide network of dentists who agree to provide clearly stated and reduced fees for service.

“Dentistry is a very opaque market and I saw using technology to bring transparency as an opportunity,” said Winebaum, who compares joining his service to becoming a Costco member, though he declines to disclose membership numbers.

The network is free for dentists to join, but they must discount their rates from 20 percent to 60 percent, a figure set through negotiations with Brighter.com. The service costs individuals $99 and families $149 a year, and includes access to a database that also rates dentists.

Brighter.com recently commissioned an analysis of 26 million billing dental claims, including those of 8,600 L.A.-area dental practices, that revealed wide variations in prices.

“We found three dentists literally right next door to each other in Glendale where you could pay anywhere from $580 to $1,150 for the same type of crown,” Winebaum said.

Despite reduced rates, Brentwood dentist Dr. Alex Buznikov said that it was a good decision to become a Brighter.com affiliate, noting it draws 20 to 40 new patients to his practice each month.

“I like to take the Brighter patients because they are educated and already know the prices, they pay cash and you don’t have to deal with an insurance company,” he said.

A former head of Internet operations for Burbank’s Walt Disney Co., Winebaum scored big as an entrepreneur after selling the Business.com website for $345 million to Yellow Pages publisher R.H. Donnelley Co. in 2007. He and a group of partners had acquired the site for just $7.5 million in 1999.

He decided to tackle the dental industry as his next venture after having a conversation with his father-in-law.

“He had just come back from the dentist and had been told he needed about $7,000 worth of crowns and implants. He asked me whether that was a good price,” said Winebaum, who realized there was an opportunity in the industry when he couldn’t answer the question.

Brighter.com so far has received $13 million in venture funding from Benchmark Capital, Mayfield Partners and other investors.

Doctor-Hospital Relationship

A large San Fernando Valley physicians group that serves only one of Providence Health & Services’ five local hospitals will serve more under an agreement that went into effect this month.

Facey Medical Group of Mission Hills and its administrative support arm, Facey Medical Foundation, are becoming more tightly affiliated with the Southern California subsidiary of the Seattle-based Catholic hospital chain.

Providence will take six seats on the foundation’s 11-member board and help Facey obtain capital to expand into the markets of its other hospitals. Other financial terms were not disclosed.

Patients of Facey’s 165 physicians comprise about one-quarter of the daily census at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, according to Facey foundation Chief Executive Bill Gil. But Facey does not have a presence near Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and Providence Tarzana Medical Center. It now plans to open practices and clinics in those communities.

In addition, Gil will take over administration of Providence Medical Institute, a physician foundation that administers physician practices near the Providence Little Co. of Mary Medical Centers in Torrance and San Pedro, plus a specialty group in West Hills. Facey doctors, however, will retain the right to send their patients to hospitals outside the Providence system.

The agreement also will assist Facey in replacing its decade-old electronic medical records system with one that Providence will begin to roll out this fall through a partnership called Providence Partners for Health. Providence and more than 668 local doctors are sharing the costs of implementing the network; up to 150 additional Facey doctors are expected to join the limited liability company this fall.

The new system is aimed at helping doctors provide more cost-effective and efficient care that results in better outcomes and higher patient satisfaction – and generate supporting documentation. Federal health care reform is expected to increase payments to providers who can provide such documentation.

Michael Hunn, chief executive of Providence Southern California, said that while the collaboration with physicians will benefit from health care reform, the new electronic records system was something the hospital chain wanted to develop anyway.

“It was crystal clear that that we had to create enduring, collaborative trust relationships with our physicians and figure out how to better coordinate care, how to share data, and eliminate duplication and unnecessary care,” he said.

Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached dcrowe@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232.

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