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Start-up tries tapping market of uninsured dental patients

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - While many healthcare startups are hoping the new healthcare law going into effect next year will help drive more business their way, dental network Brighter believes being left out of the law will help it more.

Dental services for adults are not part of the Affordable Care Act, which Brighter founder and chief executive Jake Winebaum believes could encourage more businesses to drop their existing dental-care coverage. That could help Brighter win customers, he says.

Brighter, which launches its new service on Monday in Los Angeles, connects its customers with dentists with whom it has negotiated discounted rates. The rates would be similar to the ones a dental insurance company might negotiate. Unlike with dental insurance plans, Brighter customers do not have to pay premiums or submit paperwork.

It is part of a group of start-ups seeking to shake up the health care business, many spurred along by the ACA. The group includes Practice Fusion, which digitizes medical records; ZocDoc, which automates doctor-appointment booking; and One Medical, which provides same-day doctor appointments for patients who pay a membership fee.

Like Brighter, many are taking on the task of making medical fees more transparent. Perhaps the best known is Castlight, which raised $100 million in a funding round last year from backers such as Morgan Stanley and T. Rowe Price.

Brighter has raised $13 million from backers including Benchmark Capital, which also backs One Medical, and Mayfield Fund, which also backs HealthTap, an online question & answer service for medical issues.

The funds should allow Brighter to expand into other California markets by the end of the year. An eventual goal of a national network may require further fundraising, Winebaum says.

Formerly chairman of the Walt Disney Internet Group, Winebaum also founded business-advertising network Business.com, which he sold to R.H. Donnelley Corp for $345 million in 2007.

About 148 million Americans currently lack dental insurance, about three times more than lack health insurance, Winebaum says.

(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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