Building a Business with Unwanted Customers

Publication: CNN Money

Author: Shelley DuBois

01/20/2012 - Diego Cobo was trying hard not to cry when he returned to his family in the waiting area at the dentist's office. The three-year-old just had just had a cavity filled, and it hurt. "Maybe you shouldn't eat so many candies," his mom said to him. Diego thought for a minute, then pointed to the teeth on the side of his mouth that wasn't numb with Novocaine, and said, "Maybe I can eat candies with these teeth?"

If Diego is like the majority of patients at Newark, N.J.-based Dental Kidz, he will be back soon enough with more cavities. Dental Kidz targets patients on Medicaid and other subsidized health care. The practice is jointly owned by husband-and-wife team Chris and Lezli Harvell -- he handles everything outside of the clinic, and she's a dentist.

Most dentists don't want to touch kids on Medicaid with a 10-foot pole, much less a dental scraper. But Chris Harvell believes that treating the underserved can make for good business. And in New Jersey, which has one of the worst records for pediatric dental care in the U.S., kids have so few options that a good provider, even to those with little income, can make a profit.


Nationally, dentists shy away from treating Medicaid patients. Many complain that this patient population has a far higher no-show rate than patients with private insurance, according to a May 2011 report called "The State of Children's Dental Health" from the Pew Center on the States. Those empty chairs eat at profits.

Medicaid compensation often falls woefully short of the cost of care: 33 states reimbursed under 60.5 cents for every dollar a dentist charged, according to the Pew study. The study also graded individual states' progress providing adequate pediatric dental care. New Jersey was one of five states to receive an F.

Read the full article, Building a Business with Unwanted Customers, on CNN Money's Web site.

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