Dental Elder Financial Abuse A $10,500 Bill for a Tooth Ache!

Editor’s Note:  This is the second alleged case of “Elder Dental Financial Abuse” that has been bought to the Troubleshooter Team for investigation and media exposure.  In the first case an elderly couple got the dentists name from the “Yellow Pages” (which is a No, No.)

They were way over charged and told they had to sign documents just to leave the office.  The Glendale Police helped the Troubleshooter and the family get a resolution to this alleged rip-off. The seniors did not have to pay the outrageous bill.

In the current case (Aug. 2004) an elderly man got the name of the dentist from his HMO.  He went in for a simple toothache and came out with a $10,500 bill.

The current allegation of elder financial abuse deals with a 68-year-old man who speaks very little English.  His name is Shi, Shu Chang and he lives in the Torrance, Ca. area.  He is a member of a major HMO and the HMO had provided him with a dentist who spoke Chinese and he could communicate with the dentist about his medical needs.

But this time when he had a tooth ache in a capped tooth he was given the names of three other dentists who did not speak any Chinese.  He says he protested this to the HMO but they said he had to use these dentists.  The HMO says he wife asked for the change in dentist, the family says this is not true.  Mr. Chang’s daughter, Jane Chang, says why would his wife want three dentists who could not speak in Chinese to their father?

Mr. Chang says he went to the dental office and told the dentist in broken-English that he had a toothache in one of his broken capped teeth.  He said the three dentists spoke to him in English that he did not understand, and that he kept saying, “tooth hurt.”  He says they gave him some type of medication that made him drowsy.  He does not remember signing any paperwork since he could not read the English document. These dentists worked on him for five and a half hours.  (A dental inspector for the Dental Board of California says, “keeping a 68-year-old man in a dental chair for five and a half hours is very unusual and he thinks dangerous.) 

The dentists did all types of work that was not covered by the HMO or was not covered because it was done in one visit.  The HMO might have covered some of the dental work but not all of it at one sitting. Ms. Chang says they cut down six good teeth for caps.  Remember he just had a toothache in one tooth, and by the way he still has that toothache. Then the dentists demanded a payment of $10,500 in cash and would not let Mr. Chang leave without paying.  He maxed-out a credit card for $3,500 and they let him leave. Now the dentists tell the HMO that was his down payment. When the Chang family challenged the charge on his credit card the dentist presented a signed blank document to prove that he had given the doctors the approval to go ahead with all this major dental work.

The family and the Troubleshooter asked for an investigation on the part of the Dental Board of California.  The Dental Board has told the family that three investigations, one for each dentist, will be conducted.

The Troubleshooter called the dentists for a comment and their reaction to the allegations, but they would not take the calls.  A woman who apparently works in the dental office called the Troubleshooter and told him this was not an unusual case, and that these dentists do this type fraud against senior citizens.  She said, “Please investigate the Chang case, please, this needs to be investigated. There are other cases like this.” This woman, who seemed to know about the case and had the names of all the doctors and the administrative staff in the office, would not give her name.  She said after the Troubleshooter called they had a big laugh about Mr. Chang’s problem.

They said no other dentist would work on him because there was an investigation and they would be the only dentists he could get  And they said they would not finish the dental work until they got their $10,500 and even more.  But with the information she has about the case it is clear she works with the dentists.  She will be a key witness for the Dental Board. The HMO has a list of patients who has asked not to use these dentists again. The Dental Board can investigate these patients and see what their complaints were when dealing with these three dentists.

The sad part of all this is that as of September 13, 2004, Mr. Chang still has the same tooth ache and he can’t get it taken care of without going back to the dentists he says ripped him off.