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Syracuse, N.Y. -- Aspen Dental Management of East Syracuse pressured staff at its 40 dental practices throughout New York to boost profits by up-selling patients and engaged in other illegal business practices, according to state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
His office announced it is fining Aspen $450,000 and making the company overhaul the way it does business in New York.
Aspen, which operates nationwide, provides business support and administrative services to seven independently owned dental practices in the state that operate under the Aspen name.
Schneiderman said an investigation by his office found Aspen was operating the dental practices as a chain, in violation of New York law. Aspen routinely made business decisions that directly affected patient care, he said.
"Medical and dental decisions should be made by licensed providers using their best clinical judgment, and should not be influenced by management companies' shared interest in potential profits," Schneiderman said in a prepared statement.
The AG's office launched an investigation in 2013 after receiving more than 300 complaints from consumers since 2005. Consumers complained about the quality of care, billing practices, misleading advertising, upselling of unnecessary medical services and products, and dental care financing.
In a settlement agreement, Aspen neither admitted nor denied the AG's findings, but agreed to change the way it operates.
The company in a statement called Schneiderman's allegations "sensationalized" and said the AG's news release does not accurately reflect the actual agreement the two sides reached.
Aspen Dental Management said it has never exercised control over the clinical care for its patients.
Robert A. Fontana, Aspen's CEO, said Schneiderman mischaracterized the nature of his company's business and demonstrated "how unfriendly the business climate can be in New York state."
The AG's office said its investigation found Aspen dictated the dental practices' care of patients by directing hygienists to sell more products and services to patients. It also trained non-licensed, non-clinical office managers how to help patients make decisions about treatment.
The AG's office said Aspen controlled substantially all the dental practices' bank accounts through a single consolidated account practice owners could not access.
Aspen illegally took a pre-set percentage of each dental office's monthly gross profit, an arrangement which created an incentive for Aspen to pressure staff in dental offices to generate revenue, according to the AG's office.
Under the settlement, Aspen cannot control the dental practices' clinical decision-making and cannot directly communicate with clinical staff about the provision of care, sales or the amount of revenue generated by services or products.
Aspen also agreed to stop taking a share of practice fees, to keep the practices' finances separate from its own and allow the practices to have complete control over their finances.
The company also must make clear on its website it only provides administrative and business support to independently owned and operated dental practices.
The affected practices include Aspen Dental Associates of Central New York, which operates nine offices in the region.