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Australian Competition And Consumer Commission Frowns At Smile Health Rebate Claims

In 2017-2018, more than 56 percent of Australians had seen a dentist or dental professional in 12 months.

CANBERRA, Australia — Pricey teeth straightening involved crooked claims, as per the consumer watchdog which is taking a teledentistry to court.

SmileDirectClub customers use in-home kits or visit the company’s retail shops before receiving teeth aligners for about AU$3000 ($2231).

But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on July 13 said SmileDirectClub left consumers believing some of the orthodontics could be reclaimed through private health insurance.

“The treatment could be covered under two-item codes when most Australian funds only pay out if a dentist or orthodontist sees the patient face-to-face, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleges,” said SmileDirectClub.

More than 600 customers were allegedly individually emailed “good news about your health fund” covering the treatment.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on July 13 said SDC left consumers believing some of the orthodontics could be reclaimed through private health insurance. (Julian Smith/AAP Image)

“SmileDirectClub had only checked the relevant fund covered the two-item codes, not that the health fund would cover the cost of the SmileDirectClub products,” said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in a statement of claim filed in the Federal Court.

“From May 2019 to October 2020, at least 26,3000 consumers commenced the aligner treatment and paid between AU$2825 ($2101) and AU$3155 ($2346.4) in circumstances where those with private health insurance “may not have done so if they had known that they were not entitled to reimbursement.”

“It is a breach of Australian Consumer Law for companies to make false or misleading statements about the benefits or rights associated with products and services,” said Rod Sims, chair at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

SmileDirectClub said it was disappointed with the action, which has nothing to do with the safety and efficacy of its treatment.

“SmileDirectClub has established partnerships with many of the largest private health insurance companies in the United States, Canada, and the EU to ensure the access to orthodontic care it enables is a covered treatment and is even more affordable to consumers,” said a spokesman.

At least 26,3000 consumers commenced the aligner treatment and paid between $2825 and $3155 in circumstances where those with private health insurance “may not have done so if they had known that they were not entitled to reimbursement”, the ACCC says in a statement of claim filed in the Federal Court. (Dan Peled/AAP Image)

“It continues to be our position that this should be true in Australia.”

As per the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports, in 2017-2018, more than 56 percent of Australians had seen a dentist or dental professional in 12 months.

“Around one-fifth of dentate adults aged 15 years and over avoided or delayed dental care due to cost in 2019–20,” states the report.

“Adults aged 15 years and over had an average of 11.2 decayed, missing, and filled teeth in 2017–2018. In 2017–2018, about 72,000 hospitalizations for dental conditions may have been prevented with earlier treatment.”

Around 1 in 4 (24 percent) Australian children aged 6–14 had dental caries in their permanent teeth, and around 1 in 10 (11%) had at least one permanent tooth with untreated decay.

(Edited by Vaibhav Pawar and Saptak Datta)