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Facing a surcharge at the dentist or hair salon? Here's what you need to know

Transparency is key for businesses, customers
Posted at 4:52 PM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 18:53:28-04

CLEVELAND — Some businesses are adding a surcharge to your bill to cover the cost of extra personal protective equipment due to COVID-19.

Places like dental offices, hair salons and barbershops may be adding this small surcharge to your bill.

According to the Better Business Bureau, transparency is key.

"No one likes surprises, especially surprises you have to pay for," said Sue McConnell, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland.

When it comes to surcharges, she said business would be smart to let customers know upfront that they're charging an additional fee, why they're charging extra and how much.

"Transparency really is a keystone of being an ethical business," McConnell said.

She offered some additional advice for businesses.

"We would recommend that [the surcharge] be reasonable so that they’re covering their costs, and of course temporary, since this hopefully is a temporary situation," McConnell said.

Anat Alon-Beck is an assistant professor of law at Case Western Reserve University. She teaches contract law and said services are contracts. She said customers can decide to say no and refuse to pay the surcharge, refusing service in the process.

"You can say, 'Hey, how much is this going to cost me? What are you charging me for?'" Alon-Beck said. "But it’s on you. If you went in and you got a service, you agreed to the terms of the contract."

For physicians or dentists, Alon-Beck said, how someone is billed is dependent on whether they have insurance and whether it's an in-network service.

"Usually, insurance companies are large companies, and what they do, they bargain on behalf of their customers for some rights," Alon-Beck said. "If you don’t have that, technically they can charge you for extra things."

The bottom line, Alon-Beck said, is to know your rights and read the fine print—including any paperwork you're asked to sign—and ask in advance what your services will cost.

"What I think should be a good practice is for the business to tell the clients in advance, 'Hey, we’re going to charge you extra,'" Alon-Beck said.

For customers who get a charge they weren't notified about in advance, McConnell recommended reaching out to management at the company first. However, if you feel it's not being handled fairly, you can reach out to the BBB or perhaps to the Ohio Attorney General.

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