A proposal by the American Dental Association (ADA) to conduct surveys of dentists' fees for use in resolving disputes about dental fees and dental insurers' reimbursement rates does not appear to violate federal antitrust laws, according to the Federal Trade Commission staff. In a letter to the FTC's Bureau of Competition, the ADA said it wanted to be able to survey dentists' fees in a given area, when requested to do so by a local affiliate. ADA would make available information on the range of prevailing fees to patients who question their dentists' fees for specific procedures. This information could be used by patients to evaluate dental fees and insurance plans. The survey data would also be available to dentists, on a limited basis. They can use the survey data in providing explanations to patients or in questioning an insurer's reimbursement in cases when the insurer refuses to pay a dentist's full fee, based, for instance, on the usual, reasonable and customary charges in a local area. Bureau Director Timothy J. Muris in his advisory opinion stated, "Depending on the purpose and effect of the conduct, dissemination of information about prices by an organization of competitors, especially to its members, can facilitate or constitute an unlawful agreement to set or regulate prices." However, Muris said such price fixing appears unlikely in this situation because the survey results generally would not be distributed to competing dentists; the results would be given as a range of fees rather than one specific price; and the program would be voluntary and would not require any party to take action as a result of the surveys.
The opinion represents the advice of the bureau on the legality of the proposed course of action outlined by the ADA and is based on information submitted by the association. As with all advisory opinions, the Commission is not bound by the advice and reserves the right to rescind it at a later time.
Copies of the Muris letter are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-523-3598; TTY 202-523-3638.
News media copies are available from the Office of Public Affairs, Room 496, same address; 202-523-1847.
Linda I. Singer,
Office of Public Affairs,
Arthur N. Lerner,
Bureau of Competition,