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Friday, October 18, 2013

Tips on Ways to Use Your FSA Funds Before you Lose Them

Around this time every year, people who haven’t used all of the money set aside in their yearly Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) are scrambling to figure out how to maximize these funds before the end of the year.

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FSAs are popular benefits provided by employers that allow workers to set aside money to cover health-related expenses at pre-tax rates, which can add up to significant savings. The bittersweet realization of many people who elect FSA funds is that they expire at the end of the year, whether or not they have spent the money. So if you don’t use it, you lose it!

According to the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation, 20% of people who didn’t use all of their FSA funds last year forfeited $500 or more. The average person forfeited $43 - $60. While FSAs can save people a lot of money on their medical costs, there is no reason to let unused money go to waste at the end of the year, even if the funds seem miniscule.

Here are some ways you can maximize your extra FSA funds this year:

  1. Go to the dentist: You can use your FSA funds to cover any dental co-pays or charges. This money can also be used towards procedures not typically covered by insurance (i.e. braces). To save even more money, book your appointment through a dental savings website like Brighter.com, and save an average of 50% on your dental care.

  2. Get your eyes checked: many people don’t realize that vision check-ups can be paid for with FSA funds. If you have an old pair of glasses or contacts that need replacing, you can pay for those too! If you’ve been considering a vision-correcting surgery such as Lasik, you can also pay for it with you FSA funds (as long as it has not been paid for through your dental insurance or employer).

  3. Self-improvement: Many activities, programs and medications related to your self-improvement are also covered. For instance, if your doctor has requested that you lose weight, many hypertension, obesity and heart disease medications can be paid for with FSA funds. If you’ve joined a gym or health club, you can pay for activities related to weight-loss at these institutions with your FSA funds as well. Need to quit smoking or attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting? These assistance programs are included as well (although nicotine gum or patches are not included). You can even get acupuncture with these funds!

  4. Preventive Screenings/Tests: Body scans or colonoscopies, for example, can be reimbursed through your FSA account.

  5. Home improvements: If you have made modifications to your home to accommodate a medical condition, those expenses could qualify for reimbursement through your FSA funds (such modifications can include railings, support bars, doors, stairways, ramps, and many more).

  6. Medical Conferences: If you have been interested in attending a conference to learn more about your medical condition, treatment options, or latest research findings, these events could qualify for payment through FSA funds.

  7. Birth control: All types of birth control are covered by your FSA funds, including condoms, pills, and intrauterine devices. You can even put this money towards a vasectomy or in vitro fertilization treatments.

For all procedures and products that you intend to pay for with your FSA funds, be prepared to provide proof of the expense and describe why you needed to spend that money. Take charge of your health today and spend those funds before it’s too late!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Small Businesses and Healthcare Costs: Ways to Save

Do you consider yourself a small business owner? Small businesses often struggle to afford sufficient health and dental benefits for their employees. The Affordable Care Act, which comes into full effect this year, includes an employer mandate, which means that any business with more than 50 employees needs to provide healthcare to their employees by January 1, 2015. If you fall into this business category, read on…

Healthcare costs can be expensive for small businesses. We’ve outlined some of the top tips for small business owners to consider when trying to lower their healthcare costs while providing medical care to their employees and their families. Also, while adult dental care is not a mandatory requirement with the ACA (see our related blog post here), a dental savings program such as Brighter can help curb dental costs!

163087806 Providing a high-deductible plan is one option for employers. High-deductible plans cost less for the employer, and encourage the employee to seek out and compare healthcare costs before they are incurred. There is a new trend towards price transparency in the healthcare market, and since employees will be initially paying more out-of-pocket for their healthcare costs, these high-deductible plans generally drive the patients to look for savings in advance.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) are also a consideration for cost-conscious small business owners. FSAs allow employees to set aside money from their own paychecks on a pre-tax basis for healthcare expenses. Small businesses can also band together and purchase group plans as a way to lower costs.

If you have less than 50 employees at your company, you are eligible to take advantage of the new SHOP program that is part of the ACA. SHOP, which stands for Small Business Health Option Program marketplace, is a way for small businesses to compare various healthcare plans up front and select their enrollment on a rolling monthly basis. Unlike individuals, small businesses that use SHOP can enroll throughout the year and select the plan that makes the most sense for their company.[1] In addition, if small businesses purchase insurance through SHOP, they can receive a 50% tax break on their healthcare expenses starting in 2014 (up from 35% previously). The SHOP program will provide competitive options and more transparent information for small businesses purchasing healthcare plans.

Another choice for small businesses to consider is to implement a corporate wellness program. Wellness programs can come in many forms, including preventative care such as flu shots, discounted gym memberships, and nutritional education programs. These types of programs can encourage employees to take care of their health before a major problem arises and can lower health costs in the long term.

Preventative care can also include dental care and regular teeth cleanings. If you cannot fit dental insurance into your healthcare budget, you can encourage preventative check ups (and significant savings) through our Brighter.com savings programs. Please call us today to learn more about how you can bring Brighter to your workplace. Small business owners have a variety of options to keep health and dental care affordable for their companies, and the changes toward cost transparency will benefit employers and employees in their healthcare planning.







[1] "Launching Small Business Health Option Program Marketplace, HHS Ramps Up Outreach, Education." High Country Press. HCPress.com, 27 Sept. 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <http://www.hcpress.com/news/launching-small-business-health-option-program-marketplace-hhs-ramps-up-outreach-education.html>.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Halloween: Sweet Treats can be Tricky for Teeth

Halloween is one of everyone’s favorite holidays, especially children, but with the fun, treats, and costumes come some perils for your teeth.

Harmful bacteria thrive when exposed to sugar, increasing the speed and prevalence of tooth decay, and dental visits often increase the week following Halloween due to aggravated toothaches and cavities.

153640648 Did you know that the worst candies for your dental health are sour candies, especially sour gummies? Sour candies contain high acid levels that erode enamel at a faster rate than regular sugary treats. Gummy candies and other chewy snacks like caramels stick to the teeth for longer, increasing the exposure period and risk of bacterial growth. Choose sugar-free versions for a safer indulgence. Those who wear braces face even more dangers during Halloween since gum, hard candies, candy apples, and popcorn can stick to or break the delicate hardware in your mouth, so try for softer chocolates if you wear braces or a retainer.

On the plus side, parents can use Halloween as a time to encourage healthy brushing and eating habits. It is essential that children and parents alike brush after meals or after enjoying Halloween candy. If you are busy and on the go, carrying travel-size mouthwash and floss is a great way to clean your mouth of debris after snacking. Eating candy at mealtimes (instead of throughout the day) also helps limit sugar exposure to teeth, as saliva production increases while eating a larger meal and will help wash away any sugar. Parents can also mix Halloween candy with healthier snacks like peanuts or fruit. Frozen grapes are a fun bite-sized alternative to processed, sugary candy!

We’ve even heard it recommended that parents to allow their children to eat the bulk of their Halloween candy at once in order to limit sugar exposure to a few sittings instead of slowly over a longer period of time. We won’t recommend gorging from a nutritional standpoint, but it is an interesting reminder that the shorter the exposure of sugar to the teeth, the better!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Loving Care for a Lifetime of Wear

Senior citizens face unique challenges when it comes to maintaining healthy teeth as they age. Not only do seniors often require advanced (and pricey) procedures, they often do not possess extensive dental insurance to help cover the costs of complete dental care in their retirement. Healthy teeth are linked to increased life expectancy, so it is important for seniors to find affordable dental care in order to promote their overall health and longevity.

Common dental problems for seniors include gingivitis, periodontal disease, recessed gums, and weakened or lost teeth. The use of dentures can increase the risk of dental infection as well.  In addition, dry mouth, a common side effect of many medications, may contribute to dental problems since there is often not enough saliva to clear away harmful bacteria in the gums. Dental problems are linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, so it is imperative that seniors take care of their teeth.[1]

There are many ways for seniors to care for their teeth effectively at home. Brushing and flossing are essential at any age, but can be more challenging for certain people as they age due to mobility issues. Enlisting a family member or caregiver to help with these daily tasks can reduce the risk of dental disease. Using an electric toothbrush may also help ease the brushing process.

55878224 Various dental procedures can enhance the appearance and health of aging teeth and may merit a visit to the dentist. For example, dental bonding, crowns, and bridges can repair broken teeth, creating a uniform smile and reducing pain. Veneers, whitening, and Invisalign systems can brighten your teeth and increase confidence as the years go on! The trend towards price transparency for dental care will aid seniors in making cost-effective choices for their health. Explore dental care options at reduced rates for all ages through Brighter.com today!








[1] "Professional Dental Cleanings May Reduce Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke." AHA/ASA Newsroom. American Heart Association, 11 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Sept. 2013. <http://newsroom.heart.org/news/professional-dental-cleanings-217760>.




Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How the Affordable Care Act Impacts Your Access to Essential Dental Care

The passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 ushered in a whole new era of health care coverage, availability, and with it, complexity. While a greater number of Americans will have access to essential medical coverage in the coming years, dental coverage under the ACA can be complicated or non-existent. The ACA misses an essential component of healthy living by not requiring dental care of most insurance providers.

106579084 Approximately 47% of Americans lack any type of dental insurance as of 2012, whereas only 14.5% of Americans lack medical insurance.[1] Of the uninsured, 66% have at least one major unmet dental care need according to the 2013 US Survey of Dental Care Affordability and Accessibility.[2] These unmet needs can develop into chronic conditions affecting overall health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, the ACA does little to remedy this situation.

The good news for children and parents is that under the ACA, pediatric oral care is considered an “Essential Health Benefit” (EHB), meaning that insurance providers must include some level of dental care for children in their plans beginning January 1, 2014. As discussed in our previous blog post, regular dental checkups are crucial to establish good habits and health in children.

Dental coverage for adults, however, may be limited or non-existent under the ACA. According to the American Dental Association, states can elect to mandate dental care as part of the ACA, but few are actually doing so due to cost and implementation issues.[3] Medicaid only provides limited or emergency dental care in most cases, leaving millions of adults with limited dental care options.

Brighter.com can help patients find affordable, quality care whether they possess dental insurance or not under the ACA. Brighter.com provides a transparent marketplace for a wide range of dental procedures (including those not covered by traditional insurance), resulting in significant savings averaging over 50% off due to our pre-negotiated rates with top providers. All patients can search for quality dentists in their area and select a provider through our unique listing pages featuring bios, reviews, photos, and videos of the dentist and their practice. You can book a convenient appointment through our website or customer service hotline – try it today at Brighter.com or 888.230.4717!








[1] CDC/NCHS, National Health Interview Survey, Family Core component. (2012).




[2] Neal, David, Ph.D., and Natalie Herd, Ph.D. "2013 US Survey of Dental Care Affordability and Accessibility." (2013)




[3] "ADA News." Affordable Care Act, Dental Benefits Examined. American Dental Association, 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 9 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ada.org/news/8935.aspx>.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Healthy Teeth for Healthy Kids

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Being a kid is fun! And more often than not, childhood is filled with a plethora of tasty treats that are sugary and delicious. But all this can lead to less-than-fun results for their teeth. Overindulgence on these sugary snacks and drinks can lead to tooth decay, cavities or gum disease in your child.

In fact, According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Oral Health Program, 80% of schoolchildren are affected by tooth decay and gum disease, and more than 50 million school hours are lost annually because of oral health problems, all of which affect a child’s performance at school. Additionally, one third of orthodontic cases are due to premature loss of primary teeth due to decay or infection.

Don’t let bad oral health habits lead your child to cavities and other diseases. Brighter.com dentist, Dr. Dyan Van De Velde, says children benefit most with this four-tier approach: 1. Early professional care, 2. Good home habits, 3. Good dietary habits, 4. Fluoride supplements.

Back to School Blog Pic Below, Dr. Van De Velde offers tips and advice to help parents promote healthy teeth and cleaning habits in your little ones:

  •  Take them to the dentist! Doctors typically recommend making the first dental visit by age two. Usually this visit is an "introductory" one to start familiarizing the child with the dental office. As they get older, visiting the dentist once or twice a year is the first step to detecting and preventing any oral health problems in your child, including any malformations of the teeth or jaws, or any need for orthodontics. Preventive care is much less expensive than delaying the dentist and winding up with a major procedure that costs exponentially more money. (Using services like Brighter.com can help make these trips more affordable.) Additionally, taking your child to the dentist at an early age will help to instill good cleaning habits and foster a healthy relationship with the dentist.


  • Don’t forget to brush!  Every parent knows kids should brush their teeth at least twice a day (many children need help brushing until age 8, and later for flossing). To encourage good dental habits in your children, make it fun! In addition to using a toothbrush with adorable cartoon characters, find a fun, animal-shaped kitchen timer to encourage them to brush for the recommended two full minutes. Or, hum their favorite song with them for the duration of their brushing—songs last about two-three minutes, so this will help them understand how long they should spend cleaning their teeth.


  • Floss, floss, floss! You should start flossing your child’s teeth as soon as they start touching side by side. Help your child develop a habit of gently flossing once a day to help remove food that can get stuck between his or her teeth, and also to reduce plaque buildup. Brushing alone can’t reach every surface of the tooth, so instilling flossing habits early will help your child maintain good oral health.


  • Adjust their diet. Add crunchy fruits and vegetables to their meals and snacks. Apples, celery and cucumbers have high water volume that helps dilute sugar and wash food particles from their teeth. These foods also take longer to chew, which stimulates saliva production that helps to prevent tooth decay as well. Not to mention, these fruits and vegetables are good for your overall health too!


  • Fluoride is your friend. Adding vitamins and fluoride pills or drops to your child’s diet will help strengthen the enamel of their teeth as they are being formed. Talk to your dentist about whether this is a good option for your child. These drops/pills are recommended until age 13.


  • Ask about sealants. Most children benefit from sealants, which are protective coatings placed on the teeth to help protect them from decay. Ask your dentist if these might be a good preventative measure that you could take to protect your child’s teeth.


  • Avoid sugary drinks. Soda and fruit juice—and many sports drinks as well—are acidic and loaded with sugar. These two things together destroy teeth. Try to avoid them, dilute them, or at least rinse their mouths with plain water after use.


  • Limit the sweets! Sugary and sticky foods produce plaque acids that cause tooth decay. Multiple exposures to sweets throughout the day is much worse than a dessert followed by brushing. So, when your child does indulge in a sweet treat, remind them to brush and floss after (or at least rinse with water).


  • Protect them during sports.  Sport mouth guards are seen more and more to protect the teeth during sports activity, and to prevent damage and loss that can affect someone for the rest of their lives. If you have an athlete in your family, get to the dentist for a mouth guard and keep those teeth safe!



Thursday, June 27, 2013

Healthcare Prices Uncensored: The Shift Towards Price Transparency

The United States has higher costs of healthcare when compared to most other developed nations; however, these prices are not necessarily linked to quality care. With the current structure of U.S. healthcare pricing today, patients have little access to information about medical prices—or quality—prior to undergoing a procedure. And unfortunately, preliminarily obtaining this information is nearly impossible, ruling out any chance of comparison-shopping between hospitals or physicians, as well as the ability for patients to make informed decisions before being hit with a medical bill.

The typical price disparities among hospitals—even those relatively close in distance from one another—can average more than 200% in inflated costs, with little relationship to differences in quality . This remains true even within most preferred provider organization insurance networks. According to a recent TIME cover article by Steven Brill titled “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us,” many stakeholders in the health care system profit from concealed price and quality information, including poor-performing and high-priced insurers, providers, and suppliers. They fear (and correctly) that if patients had better access to price and quality differences between the providers available to them, it will likely determine where they seek healthcare services.

While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made significant—albeit preliminary efforts—to collect and disseminate price and quality, more action is needed to ensure these actions are enforced.

Many companies and organizations are creating their own ideas to improve price transparency among consumers. The Annals of Internal Medicine, a publication of the American College of Physicians, for instance, featured an article by Robert Kocher, M.D. and Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D, who actively propose the “transparency imperative.” This initiative, which is part of the foundation for a post-ACA healthcare system that achieves better quality and cost control, suggests that all data on price, utilization, and quality of healthcare be made available to the public unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.

Specifically where dental care is concerned, Brighter.com, a simple and free alternative to dental insurance, is also making strides to ensure that all dental procedures are transparent to its members before they book an appointment through its online platform. The Brighter.com service, which provides its dental savings (averaging around 50%) to both insured and uninsured users, also allows its members to comparison-shop for a dentist (also categorized by their Yelp reviews) in and around their area with a satisfaction guarantee. Understanding that price transparency is merely the first step in transforming healthcare, Brighter.com also offers its members negotiated prices with its dentists, adding yet another layer to assist consumer’s in making educated healthcare decisions, while saving them money.

Out are the days of concealed medical prices, and in are the times of paying for quality healthcare. While most of the ACA has already been enacted, we anticipate that 2014 will continue to bring improvements in the transparency of medical costs, which will subsequently leave patients in the drivers seat of their healthcare decisions, and back in control of their wallets.

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To learn more about Brighter.com or how to sign up for our free membership, visit www.brighter.com or call 1.888.230.4717.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Founding Story

This post features Jake Winebaum, Founder & CEO of Brighter.com, sharing Brighter's story. Follow him on Twitter: @jakewinebaum

I was having dinner with my in-laws and, as they typically do, the conversation turned to health and money within fifteen minutes.  My father-in-law, Sol, had just come back from the dentist and was told he needed $7,000 worth of dental work.

I said, “Doesn’t your insurance cover that?”

He said, “No, I don’t have dental insurance.  Medicare doesn’t cover dental and dental insurance is way too expensive.”

I then asked, “Well, did you ask the dentist for a better price?

And he said, “Who negotiates with their dentist?   A price is price.”

I said, “Did you look online to see if it was at least a fair price.”

Annoyed with the conversation, he said, “Why don’t you look.  You’re the Internet guy.”

And so I did.

So I searched on the Internet and grew frustrated.  First, I could find little or no pricing information on dental procedures. Second, I found that Sol was not alone in not having dental insurance.  All seniors were in the same boat and further, I found that 50% of Americans lacked dental insurance and were purchasing their care, like Sol, without the benefit of any price transparency or negotiating leverage. .  Retirees, students, small business employees, unemployed and increasingly employees of big companies that were forced to cut back on benefits due to escalating general health care costs.  I also found it very hard to get any reputational information on dentists.  The best I could find was phone numbers and addresses and some generic information on office hours.

I dug a little deeper and found that Americans spend close to $50 billion a year out-of-pocket on their dental care and they do so with no idea of what dental procedures should cost them until they are sitting in the dentists chair.

As an entrepreneur, I saw a big opportunity in providing the kind of price and reputational transparency that now exists in many other consumer markets such as automotive and travel.  Why shouldn’t a prospective patient be able to know who the best dentists were in their area and what the lowest prices were available.  From this the idea for Brighter was born.

A service that could leverage the buying power of this large and growing group of uninsured patients to negotiate affordable prices and an online and mobile service that completely changed the way people purchased and accessed their dental care.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Savings to smile about

Brighter, a simple, free alternative to dental insurance, offers the following recommendations to anyone looking for quality dental care without breaking the bank:

Pic 1You can't maximize your savings on something unless you understand what it actually costs to begin with. You can either start by calling your local dentists for quotes or look online for estimates of what your local dentists charge. (You can utilize Brighter.com to see the average costs of any dental service in your city.)



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Yes dentists are healthcare providers, but they are also small business owners themselves and most of them are very open to "give to get" opportunities like any other smart businessperson. If you can pay cash, bring your entire family to the same dentist (group strength), prove to be a loyal patient, or have a flexible schedule that enables you to take less optimal appointment times - each of these are very valuable to a dentist. Bring these to their attention and many dentists will provide you with a ~5% discount.



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Quality dentists only want the best for you, but that often results in their recommendations of services that have correspondingly higher price tags. If their initial treatment plan is too much of a financial stretch for you at this time, it's always better to get some treatment than none at all, so ask your dentist about alternatives. For example, maybe they can try a basic filling on a tooth before a crown, or maybe they can use a less expensive laboratory for the materials your treatment requires. When these types of options are available to you, the savings can be in the hundreds to thousands of dollars.



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Unlike many medical conditions, dental needs are often non-emergencies so you can comfortably take some time to strategize your way to lower out-of-pocket costs. Ask your dentist how quickly you need the recommended treatment before it will become worse and-- especially in the 2nd half of the calendar year--you can often "time" your appointments to maximize other benefits. For example, if you do not have a Flexible Savings Account (FSA) (or another tax advantaged health savings account), you can push your appointment to January and open one before that so you're paying the dentist with pre-tax dollars. If you have a dental insurance plan with extensive exclusions and limitations (most of them do), it's often better to spread out appointments to the next calendar year to maximize how much your plan will pay.



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You probably can't go more than a week without finding "New Patient Specials" in your mailbox from local dentists. These can be a great way to save on preventive care and sometimes cometic services too. But be weary of relying on these too heavily as it will require you to see new dentists each time and gives you no price protection should you require additional services - you will also want to do secondary research on the quality of the dentist you're considering.



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The best way to spend less money at the dentist is to see him/her more often! I know that sounds counterintuitive, but its true. When you stay on schedule with your six-month checkups not only is each visit less extensive (your exam is actually quicker), but it's also the best way to guarantee that dental problems do not arise requiring more expensive services down the road.  Clinical studies show that when you skip your regular exams your likelihood of developing gum disease or other expensive conditions increases 75%.



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Students at your local dental schools need many hours of supervised experience before that can get licensed. If you're willing to give these aspiring dentists your services, you can often get free to low-cost care from them. The American Dental Association's website can help you lookup dental schools near you.



pic 8Many dentists participate in dental savings plans that provide discounts of 20 - 50% off their usual fees, these are win-win solutions for patients and dentists alike as they enable patients to save on needed care while providing the dentist with more patients. While Brighter.com is the only free version of this concept (available right now in Los Angeles) there are many companies that offer them in other parts of the country in exchange for an average of $100 in annual membership fees.

For more information on Brighter.com and our free membership, visit www.brighter.com or call 1.888.230.4717.