GREENWICH VILLAGE — A husband-and-wife team of dentists with a private practice in Greenwich Village founded an alternative to dental insurance to try to "eliminate a little bit of the lack of transparency around what dental services cost," after realizing that "dentistry was way too expensive."
"To get that high-quality dental care did not need to be that expensive," Dr. Jeffrey Rappaport said.
So Rappaport and his orthodontist wife, Michelle Katz, founded Afora, a membership program that gives patients access to a network of dental care providers curated by Rappaport and Katz themselves, with "transparent fee schedule" for services ranging from cleanings to implants.
"From our standpoint, we're really going after dentists, we're finding them, we're seeking out the dentists we want," Rappaport said.
The idea, Rappaport said, was "let's try to vet out and really build this on great dentists."
Afora is separate from their private practice at 474 Sixth Ave. — they are just another provider in the network. They also have a practice on the Upper East Side, where they live.
The couple, who met in dental school at New York University, started off offering just cleanings, whitenings and orthodontics.
They charged $89 for a cleaning then allowed customers to access additional services discounted with a transparent fee schedule at different dentists around Manhattan.
For the first year, they kept the providers to just "a handful" and "got constant feedback" by continually checking in and asking, "Is this price fair? Is that price fair? Should we include this service?" Rappaport said.
That experience led to Afora, and over roughly two years it grew "much more quickly than we anticipated," Rappaport said.
"We had members who were small business owners paying $60 to $75 a month for their dental insurance," he said. "We realized pretty quickly that we could service and provide better care to a lot more people if we expanded beyond our own dental practice."
Since launching Afora as its own company, their goal is to "see if we can extend the affordable care with high quality providers model to much more people."
"Typically what happens with insurance is you either have a low-cost plan [and] a lot of the offices that accept these kinds of plans are kind of scary," Rappaport said.
And even for patients with better insurance plans, "if you need any type of real work to be done you’re going to hit your maximum and end up paying out of pocket anyway."
For the estimated 50 percent of Americans without dental insurance, "you’re going to pay incredibly less," Rappaport said, as their fees are often as little as one-third the cost of a visit through other plans.
Afora's basic plan is $25 per month, includes two standard cleanings, an annual exam and x-rays, access to their "transparent" pricing and fee schedule and their curated network of professionals. There are no deductibles or maximums.
A premium plan for $45 per month offers two extra cleanings, a $1,000 voucher for comprehensive orthodontics and $150 vouchers for whitening treatments.
Afora pays the dentists in their network for the cleaning, x-rays and exam services, and all other services paid through a direct relationship between the dentist and the patients, with no need for insurance approvals or referrals.
Rappaport says the plan also saves patients time and stress by avoiding the need to "price-shop" — members can pick the dentist who is most convenient for them and know "they’re going to be the exact same price as anybody else on the plan."
“Everyone deserves access to quality dental care at prices they can afford,” Rappaport said. “I learned from my years in private practice that patients want to trust their dentist and only be charged for services that are necessary."