For more than 45 years, since they met as classmates at the NYU College of Dentistry, where Dr. Martin Kane was president of Sigma Epsilon Delta and Dr. Stephen J. Cuchel was vice president, the two have been virtually inseparable. There was a brief, one-year period following their 1964 graduation from NYUCD, when Dr. Kane did a general dentistry residency at Greenpoint Hospital and Dr. Cuchel did a residency in oral surgery/anesthesiology at Long Island College Hospital. But even then they shared a bond because the same person directed both residency programs.
After completing their residencies, Drs. Kane and Cuchel opened a private practice in Harlem, which quickly became very successful. In fact, within four years of starting the practice, they had six office locations. Their practice philosophy, which continues to this day, is based on the premise that dentistry is obligated to treat all members of society, and that quality dental care can be provided at reasonable fees.
Though it is perfectly accurate to call them "business partners," it is really an understatement. Drs. Kane and Cuchel are true visionary entrepreneurs. In 1972, when HMO regulations were first promulgated, and HMOs were becoming very popular, they recognized that the changing healthcare environment offered a potential solution to a major dental healthcare issue; namely, access to care. People with third-party insurance were having difficulty accessing dental treatment. So after practicing privately for 10 years, Drs. Kane and Cuchel made the decision to become a not-for-profit health insurance company. In 1977, they received an insurance license to become the first dental HMO in New York State.
Drs. Kane and Cuchel began reaching out to labor unions and offering to work with them within the framework of their insurance. One of their proudest initiatives is their outreach to pediatricians, encouraging them to refer their patients to pediatric dentists.
Today, Healthplex, Inc., of which Dr. Kane is President and Dr. Cuchel is Chairman of the Board, is the largest provider of dental benefits in the New York metropolitan area. Located in Uniondale, New York, Healthplex, Inc., spans 50,000 square feet, employs 310 people, and cares for the dental needs of 2.2 million people.
In addition to building successful careers as healthcare entrepreneurs, Drs. Kane and Cuchel have also built an impressive record of support for their alma mater. "We had a great time in dental school," says Dr. Cuchel. "Everybody else complained, but for us it was a great four years." In the intervening years, they made numerous generous gifts to the college, but it was when Dr. Michael Alfano became Dean, and started transforming the educational environment, that they decided they wanted to substantially increase their gifts to ensure the continued momentum they saw occurring.
"We were very impressed by the new emphasis on professionalism, on getting the faculty to treat students like professionals," says Dr. Kane, who had a bird's-eye view of the changes taking place at NYUCD thanks to his daughter, Rebekah, who also enjoyed her four years as an NYU dental student, graduating in 2001.
Now, with Dean Bertolami at the helm, they have been inspired by his focus on teaching excellence to increase their generosity even further, by making a new, major gift to support teaching
excellence at NYUCD, bringing their lifetime contributions to nearly $1 million.
"NYUCD was clearly a pivotal part of our success," says Dr. Cuchel. "It was a place where we thrived. We're thrilled to be able to give back not only because of the importance of NYUCD in our own lives, but also because by helping to turn out increasingly more competent and accomplished dentists, NYUCD is helping to ensure that the people we provide services for will have more opportunities for quality care."