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    Creative 'change': In a stormy economy, novel patient financing options for cosmetic procedures can be a silver lining

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    Mr. Seymour
    In tough economic times, patients are especially likely to seek alternatives to traditional payment methods for cosmetic surgery. And finance companies are responding with creative programs that allow patients to get their Botox or tummy tucks without having to take out traditional loans or maxing out their credit cards.

    REVOLVING CREDIT One example is CareCredit, a division of GE Money, which markets a credit card dedicated to health care expenses.

    "[Patients] could always go to a bank and get a loan, which takes time and effort.... The difference with our type of program is that the patient can apply via the home or office and get approved literally in two minutes," says Tony Seymour, CareCredit senior vice president of sales.


    Ms. Griffith
    It works like this: Cosmetic and other surgeons sign up for the program (there are 100,000 such health care providers nationwide, including dentists, cosmetic surgeons, bariatric surgeons and others) and patients apply for the revolving credit line that they can use at any provider signed up with CareCredit. Through CareCredit, there are a variety of payment plans that doctors can offer patients, including no-interest payment plans ranging from three months to 18 months, and extended payment plans with terms of up to five years that carry a fixed annual percentage rate (APR) for patients of 11.9 percent. The in-office payment transaction is similar to what it would be for a traditional credit card. GE Money pays the doctors up front and bills patients in monthly increments.

    The revolving credit option is ideal for cosmetic surgery patients, according to Mr. Seymour, because patients can use their CareCredit card time and time again for multiple procedures.

    MARKETING ADVANTAGE One of the big marketing advantages to the some 9,000 cosmetic surgeons who have signed up for CareCredit is that the finance company markets the option to its 7 million plus cardholders every month in their statement stuffers.

    "We let them know that they can use their [CareCredit] card at their LASIK surgeon, cosmetic surgeon, dentist or vet, and we direct them to our provider locator on our Web site. Our Web site gets over 800,000 unique visitors a month and over 400,000 provider look-ups a month. So enrolling in CareCredit is a great way — especially in this economy — to drive business your way," he tells Cosmetic Surgery Times.

    There is no financial risk to doctors, who Mr. Seymour says are paid two days after they make the in-office transactions. Once the practice is paid, the physician is out of the loop and CareCredit is responsible for collecting the money owed.

    There is no free lunch, however, for doctors who sign up. While doctors don't pay to enroll in CareCredit and the company provides training, support and marketing, cosmetic and other surgeons do pay a processing fee of 5 percent with each transaction — higher than they would pay with most credit cards.

    Patients benefit, Mr. Seymour says, because the 11.9 percent APR is less than what most traditional credit cards offer. That APR, he says, is where CareCredit makes most of its money.

    CareCredit will approve up to $25,000, he says.

    MIDDLEMAN SOLUTION Patients need only a credit card, debit card or checking account to take advantage of a different program available through Chase Paymentech Solutions and processed through Preferred Health Technology.

    Mary Dees Griffith, president and chief operating officer of Carrollton, Texas-based Preferred Health Technology, says the Chase Paymentech product has been out for about a year. The program's technology allows the doctor's staff to capture patient payment information, payment preference and create payment plans and automated payment collection directly from the point of service.

    "...We work with the existing card mechanism of whatever the patient prefers to use. We process Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express," Ms. Griffith states.

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    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is a writer in Boca Raton, Fla., who heads up her company, Words Come Alive.

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