Tens of thousands of Australians ordered clear teeth aligners and underwent treatment after allegedly being incorrectly told their health insurance would cover part of it, conduct the corporate watchdog has alleged was false and misleading.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has taken SmileDirectClub and its US parent company to court, alleging it made the false representations via email, text messages, flyers and on its website between May 2019 and October last year.
Included in the alleged representations were emails by SmileDirectClub claiming the company had contacted consumers’ health insurer and the “good news” was they were entitled to reimbursement for aligner treatment, which could be claimed after they had paid for it in full.
Crucially, consumers were not given the documents needed to claim a reimbursement from their health insurer until afterwards, the ACCC said.
“Affected consumers did not discover that they would not receive any health insurance reimbursement until after the SmileDirectClub treatment had been paid for in full,” chair Rod Sims said.
At least 26,300 consumers ordered aligners from SmileDirectClub during the period in which the representations are alleged to have been made.
The treatment takes several months and generally costs around $ 3000, the ACCC says.
The regulator seeks Federal Court declarations, penalties, consumer redress and other orders.
SmileDirectClub vice president of Australia and New Zealand, Jason Coglan, said the company was disappointed the ACCC had instituted proceedings.
“SmileDirectClub has established partnerships with many of the largest private health insurance companies in the United States, Canada and the EU to ensure the access to orthodontic care it enables is a covered treatment and is even more affordable to consumers,” Mr Coglan said.
“It continues to be our position that this should be true in Australia.
“We are focused on partnering with the private health insurance companies so that Australian customers can maximise their health benefits through access to teledentistry.
“These proceedings have nothing to do with the safety and efficacy of the treatment SDC enables and refer only to statements regarding the possible availability of private health insurance coverage.
“SmileDirectClub remains committed to our mission of increasing and expanding access to affordable, premium oral care and helping more Australians realise the life-changing potential of their smile.”