Groupon Business Model Draws Scrutiny From Ethics Boards, Professional Groups

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By Michael Bologna

CHICAGO—Earlier this year an inquiry arrived at the Oregon Board of Dentistry about a dentist using an internet-based “daily deal’’ coupon site to broadcast an offer for crown services at the rock bottom price of $225.

The anonymous writer punctuated the inquiry with a question: "Is this legal?"

Patrick Braatz, executive director of the state dentistry board, said he was stunned by the solicitation at multiple levels.

First, the offer seemed too cheap to be legitimate. While fees vary, Braatz knew that $225 was roughly a quarter of the price any consumer in Oregon should expect to pay for a crown.

Secondly, the offer treated a complicated dental procedure like a high-volume commercial service.

"Changing oil at Jiffy Lube is pretty much an exact science. Dentistry and medicine are practices, and they are not exact sciences," Braatz said. "The crown I put in your mouth is bound to be different from the crown in someone else's mouth and there are bound to be complications. What kind of person is going to want to deal with complications if he's only charging $225 for a crown?"