The Indiana Attorney General's Office has reached a settlement agreement on October 22 with Aspen Dental Management (ADMI), resolving allegations that the company used deceptive advertising and other unfair tactics to promote services at Aspen Dental-branded practices in Indiana.
Aspen Dental Management must pay $95,000 to the state of Indiana, $15,000 of which will go to affected customers as restitution, according to the settlement filed in Marion County Circuit Court. Furthermore, Aspen agrees to reform its advertising techniques, which it began to do over the past year following the attorney general's investigation, according to a statement from the office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoller.
In a separate statement, Aspen Dental Management said it "cooperated fully" with the attorney general's office, but the company disagreed with its conclusions. The attorney general's office itself acknowledged that many of the issues were addressed by Aspen prior to settlement.
The Indiana Attorney General's Office alleged that "Aspen Dental Management marketed free or discounted denture consultations, dentures, initial exams, and x-rays at Indiana practices without adequately disclosing limitations or qualifications for these offers," according to its statement.
The office received 73 consumer complaints against Aspen based on these advertising-related allegations. Many of the complainants were older than 60 years of age.
"Misleading customers about the true cost of dental services is deceptive and unlawful, and this behavior placed unanticipated financial burden on Hoosiers, many of which were senior citizens," Zoeller noted in the statement. "Today's settlement will protect customers of Aspen Dental-branded practices in Indiana and help ensure they have full information before making decisions about costly procedures."
According to the Aspen statement, however, this investigation was "primarily centered on advertising and marketing dating back to 2007 conducted on behalf of the 30 independently owned and operated Aspen Dental-branded practices in Indiana," which are not party to compliance agreement. The company stated that the main issues were clarity of disclaimers and disclosures related to advertised offers, most of which were resolved back in 2013.
Terms of settlement
Aspen is required to fully disclose the terms and limitations of its advertised promotions, stop advertising products or services as "free" that are not, and must provide training to employees at its affiliate dental clinics in Indiana on terms and conditions of third-party credit agreements so that full information is passed on to consumers, according to the terms of the settlement.
Additionally, Aspen Dental Management must pay $95,000 to the state of Indiana, $15,000 of which will be used to repay affected consumers, with the rest going toward state investigative costs and future consumer protection enforcement.
Aspen noted in its statement that the 73 complaints cited by the attorney general's office were received over a nine-year period during which Aspen Dental practices in Indiana saw more than 338,000 patients and recorded nearly 1.5 million patient visits.
The company stated that it shared the attorney general's "commitment to ensuring the clarity of all patient communications."
Aspen Dental Management is based in New York and licenses the Aspen Dental brand name to independently owned and operated dental practices across the U.S. It provides thepractices with business and administrative support, including marketing services and customer billing. In Indiana, 30 dental practices across the state are licensed under the Aspen Dental brand. Individual dental practices are not part of this settlement.