Although discount plans are also sold by private companies, they are not insurance plans. There are no copays, coinsurance, or deductible amounts. That also means that there are no pre-negotiated rates or free yearly checkups and cleanings. A participating dentist simply agrees to offer discounts (often a percentage off from the total price) for certain medical services. Then, seniors who choose discount plans will pay their dentist directly for the cost of services (after the discount).
For freedom of choice, there are a few types of plans to consider including PPO dental plans and Indemnity plans. PPO dental plans generally allow members to see any dentist, but they also include a listing of In Network dentists. With PPO’s you typically get more value if you see an In Network provider, but you can still choose to see an Out of Network provider too. Though Out of Network providers can bill for additional charges if they wish.
Medicare recipients are legally permitted to purchase dental plans on the ACA Marketplace, but the process isn’t easy. As noted in the section above, stand-alone dental plans are not eligible for subsidies. And in the states where the ACA Marketplace is run by the federal government, dental coverage is available only to those who also buy health insurance.
In either case, in our opinion, the purchase of dental insurance can be hard if you don’t do your homework. Why? The premiums aren’t in favor of the benefit. For example, if you are paying $100 per month for dental insurance which has an annual benefit of $1,000, that really isn’t in your best interest. You are paying $1,200 annually for a $1,000 benefit. In this case, it is better to simply negotiate a discount with the dentist or utilize a dental discount plan where appropriate (more on that below).
Unfortunately, Original Medicare (Parts A and B) does not include coverage for services like dental exams, cleanings, fillings, crowns, bridges, plates, or dentures. There are some exceptions, such as when a hospital stay is involved, but otherwise, you would have to pay out of pocket for any routine dental services. For some of us, those expenses could add up quickly.
Preventive care may seem optional if you have healthy teeth and good oral hygiene, but it saves money in the long run. I went without dental insurance for three years in my twenties, and did what most of my peers did in that situation – simply didn’t visit the dentist. Then I enrolled in a graduate program which required students to have medical and dental coverage. At my first dental visit, I had numerous cavities. Getting them all filled required nine or ten appointments in the nine months of my academic year.
Most full coverage dental insurance plans will cover two preventive maintenance visits per year without requiring a deductible payment. Most require a $50 deductible per person, per year to help cover costs beyond your preventive exams. If you need work done, most plans will cover a part of the costs. We looked at root canals specifically and found that the majority of dental plans will cover about half the cost, which may not seem like a lot, but paying half is better than paying upfront for an $800 root canal. However, keep in mind that most insurance policies, depending on your plan, top out at about $1000 to $1500 per year. Using conservative estimates that might be one or two root canals. If you need extensive work done you might have to pay the remaining amount out of pocket.
As people get older, our medical and dental needs grow. It’s just a natural part of life, and so it’s important to take care of your body by giving it the proper care and attention it needs. Regular dentist visits for exams and professional cleanings are a crucial part of dental maintenance. Unfortunately, it seems that finding high quality dental insurance for seniors only gets more difficult.
Once you purchase a dental insurance plan and start paying your premiums, most preventive care like cleanings and check-ups are covered immediately. For more serious procedures, after you meet your deductible, you’ll only be responsible to pay your percentage of the cost. And we’ll pay the rest. Also, some dental plans have an out-of-pocket maximum to protect you from high costs throughout the year. On some plans, if you reach this maximum, we’ll pay the full cost of any additional care until your annual maximum benefit is met.
The cost of not taking care of your oral health could be more. Those without individual dental coverage are less likely to get routine dental care, meaning they seek out a dentist only when they have a problem. By then, more extensive and more expensive measures may be necessary, and major problems linked to poor oral health (like heart disease and diabetes) are more likely to appear.2 Doing nothing now means you might pay more later.