Dental insurer marks 40 years serving Hawai'i
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
Retired Hawai'i stevedore Eugene Macadangdang recalls using his finger to rub salt over his teeth and gums to keep them clean. Going to the dentist was expensive and the prevailing attitude in the 1950s was "until you had a puka, no need to go," he said.
Dr. Fumio Tsuji was part of founding what is now Hawai'i Dental Service.
That attitude changed in February 1962 when 15 local dentists created the Hawaii State Dental Service Corp. and offered for the first time a prepaid dental plan. On July 1, 1962, ILWU stevedores implemented the plan and were soon followed by unions representing pineapple, sugar, dairy and electrical industries.
"We took a big chance but never dreamed it would be like this," said 84-year-old Dr. Fumio Tsuji of Maui, one of the 15 founding members of what is now known as Hawai'i Dental Service.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, HDS is the state's largest dental insurance company with 518,000 members and 96 percent of Hawai'i's licensed dentists.
When the stevedores signed up in 1962, they did it to get dental care for their children. The plan started with 560 children.
"When we introduced the resolution to create Dental Service Corp., we took a big chance because the dentists who organized it owned it and there were no shares," Tsuji said. "We were responsible for any deficit."
At that time, dentists were charging $3 per silver filling, $50 for a gold crown and $100 for dentures, Tsuji said.
The late Dr. Sau Yee Chang of Kaua'i, who was an active member of the national American Dental Association, heard about prepaid plans adopted by workers at Ford Motor Co. in Detroit that had spread from California. He pitched the idea to the Hawai'i Dental Society.
Like his father, 46-year-old Gary Macadangdang is a stevedore. As a child, he benefited from his father's dental plan by getting regular checkups.
He hated the drilling, "but looking back, we have to remember those before us who made all these benefits possible," he said. "It was a big step and we shouldn't ever take it for granted. "