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07/21/2009

More Health Professionals Bartering Their Services

By Monifa Thomas of the Chicago Sun Times

 

When Lincoln Park dentist Adrian Codel cleans a patient's teeth, it�s not unusual for him to get his house cleaned as payment. Codel is among a small but growing number of health care professionals whose patients barter home repairs, party planning and travel vouchers for teeth cleanings, check-ups and eye exams. Dentists, eye doctors and chiropractors are particularly in demand for these exchanges because their services often aren�t covered by insurance.

 

�Health care providers do well in the bartering world because the cost of insurance is high, and it�s not necessarily covering things like eye care and dental work,� said John Hora, vice president/co-owner of Art of Barter, an Elgin-based company that facilitates exchanges among 1,400 Chicago area businesses.

 

�We're finding more and more physicians and health care professionals becoming more barter-savvy,� Hora said. In a typical exchange, a dentist would trade a $600 tooth whitening for 600 barter credits from his patient�s barter group account. The dentist could then redeem those credits for services that are provided by other businesses in the group.

 

Art of Barter gets a 10-percent cut of transactions made between its members, most of which are small businesses. Bartering between businesses is legal as long as proper documentation is kept and sales are reported as taxable income, the Internal Revenue Service says.

 

David Wallach, president of the International Reciprocal Trade Association, estimates that $11 billion in barter transactions are made each year in North America.

 

Codel has used his barter credits to get the floor in his office refinished, acquire ink and toner for his dental practice, and take trips to Lake Geneva. He also gets his house cleaned every other week. But bartering can be even more valuable as a marketing tool for his business. �If I can get one barter patient who can recommend me to five cash-paying customers, that�s a good investment,� he said.

 

Less than 5-percent of Codel�s patients pay in trade. One of them is Dan Merlo, a photographer who has used barter credits for �everything from general cleaning and dentistry to a root canal and crown replacements.�

 

Because he lacks dental insurance, Merlo said it would have been �a huge strain� to pay out of pocket for the work he has had done on his teeth. �I had to go into debt just to pay for an initial reworking of my fillings and teeth,� noted Merlo, of Logan Square. �When I was able to use barter credits for the dentist, I was really excited about that.�

 

Bartering also has helped him pick up clients for his photography business that he might not have gotten otherwise. Surprisingly, though, the sour economy hasn�t increased demand for in-trade exchanges, health care providers say.

 

�You would think it�d be something more people would want to do, but the economy has slowed everything down,� said optometrist Robert Levine of Advanced Eyecare Consultants in Libertyville, who has been bartering with his patients for 15 years.

 

For more information on Art of Barter go to www.artofbarter.com.


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