State unsure of legal steps against national dental chain

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jan 12, 2011

CHARLESTON -- West Virginia officials say they haven't decided what legal steps they'll take against a national dental chain that closed its offices last week.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Stonestreet told The Associated Press that officials still are considering their options for dealing with consumer complaints from residents.

Allcare Dental, the New York-based dental chain, unexpectedly closed all of its 52 offices nationwide early last week, citing financial problems.

The company, which is centered in Buffalo, posted a letter online to patients saying it was having cash flow problems and would try to transfer medical records to other dentists.

Across the country, patients -- including those in Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- reported going to the dental chain's offices for their appointments only to find the doors closed.

Attorneys general offices in some states are reportedly starting to collect information from Allcare customers to figure out how many residents are affected by the chain's closure.

As of Jan. 6, Stonestreet said that West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office had received about 40 complaints about Allcare prior to the shutdown and are expecting more because of the closure.

It is unclear how many office locations the chain had in West Virginia.

But for now, Stonestreet said his office is encouraging customers to at least try to retrieve their dental records.

Also, if they paid by credit card, to dispute any charges, he said. The No. 1 concern, Stonestreet told the AP, is those residents who have already paid for work that hasn't been finished or started.

Some say there were signs that Allcare was in trouble.

In August, former Attorney General Andrew Cuomo -- now the governor of New York -- announced that the chain was one of the health care providers being subpoenaed in a state investigation of predatory health care lending.

The investigation, prompted by more than 200 consumer complaints, involved health care credit cards -- a newer way of paying for services at providers such as dentists, chiropractors, infertility clinics, weight loss clinics and veterinarians.

Cuomo's office said the cards violated the state's consumer protection laws because they were offered with deceptive tactics.

"Consumers reported that health care providers promised that the credit card had 'no interest,' when it often carried retroactive interest of over 25 percent if not paid in full during a promotional period," the Attorney General's Office explained at the time.

"Consumers were also unknowingly charged up front for services they never received, and their attempts to obtain refunds were often thwarted or ignored."

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