A carrier recently told us that many seniors expect to carry over their dental coverage from their employer. Yet, that rarely happens. What does happen is that about 90% of seniors on Medicare don’t have proper dental coverage (American Dental Association). After filling out the Medicare paperwork, most seniors put dental insurance on the back burner. (And vision and hearing, too…we’ll get to those later.) And, why not? Your teeth are not hurting yet and they feel pretty good.
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.
Dental providers contract with dental savings plans to provide the same quality dental work at reduced prices. The concept is a familiar one – it’s the same model used by discount clubs like Costco and Sam’s. Dentists realize that for many seniors, insurance is not the best option and, in many cases, doesn’t provide all of the coverage they really need. You benefit by gaining access to discounts of up to 60% on routine and major oral healthcare.
Because dental is not included in Original Medicare (unless medically necessary) or Medigap supplement plans, seniors must look elsewhere for dental coverage. So, dental insurance for seniors on Medicare can seem like a chore. But getting dental insurance when you’re using Medicare isn’t difficult, limited, or expensive. In fact, there are two different paths to take in order to find inexpensive coverage options.
However, if your insurance does not cover cleaning and preventative care at 100%, then you will have to pay the remaining costs of your visit. This can cost anywhere from $20 to over $100 depending on the type of care you’re getting and the percentage covered. If you’re getting a PHMO plan, it is easier to estimate your costs since all procedures conducted in their network will have fees, but if you’re going to your own dentist then it will simply be a percentage of whatever they charge.
Dental insurance plans typically cost more than discount plans, but they make actual plan payments to dental providers. Dental insurance plans usually have an annual benefit maximum of $1000 up to $3000 per year that can be paid out depending on the plan. Though insured dental plans may cost more than discount plans they may be a better solution if you need more dental care or have been accustomed to using dental insurance plans before.
The short answer here is that there isn’t one. In fact, a better question to ask is “What is the best dental insurance for me?”. One key point that is important for seniors to understand about any type of insurance is the fact that we are all unique and individual. When you consider dental insurance your choice should be 100 percent about you. Even the best plan for your spouse might not be the best plan for you.
If you go to an out-of-network dentist, then the plan usually pays based on the UCR fee. For example, if the dentist charges $250 for the filling, but the UCR in your area is $150, you could end up paying more. In this case, $130 ($250 – $150 X (.80)). This also introduces the concept of balanced billing, which means paying the dentist the cost difference between their rate ($250 in this case) and the cost-sharing rate ($120).
Many provide as much as 100% coverage preventative services and then less on basic procedures usually 50% to 80%, and usually 50% to 0% on major care or things like crowns. Often there is some fine print with these plans and they do not cover certain procedures. They also have a maximum annual benefit and a deductible that you have to pay before they start coverage. There also can potentially be waiting periods on certain types of procedures but you don’t always have to get a referral to see a specialist.
Coverage begins at enrollment; there’s no waiting period. All applicants are accepted, even if you have previous dental work or ongoing issues, you’re guaranteed acceptance in the plan. You can even bundle a vision plan with it, for another $14 per month. All rates are guaranteed not to change for at least 12 months, but you can cancel any time you like.
The cost estimates provided may be different from your actual costs for several reasons, including but not limited to, your unique dental circumstances and the decisions made by you and your dental professionals as to what services you will receive, deviations between the anticipated scope of services and the services actually provided, and the characteristics of your particular plan.
Depending on the type of insurance you’re looking at, the network of your dental insurance provider could be crucially important. Check to see how many dentists they have in their network and if your current dentist is in it or if there is a dentist who has an office near you that you would want to go to. Another thing to consider is whether the insurance provider will let you go see dentists outside their network, what the costs will be, and whether you need a referral when you need to see a specialist.
In order to save the most with your Humana plan, you'll have to use a dentist in their network, although they do offer you the ability to use dentists outside their network if you’re willing to pay higher fees. If you want to see a specialist, you will need to get a referral from your primary care dentist. They also offer dental savings plans which are dental discount plans rather than insurance. These plans provide discounts on your dental procedures of up to 45%.
Gum Disease. Your gum disease risk increases as you get older. The New York Times notes that in a study of people over 70 years old, 86% had at least moderate gum disease and over a quarter experienced tooth loss. It’s important to properly take care of your teeth, have a healthy diet, reduce stress, and refrain from smoking to reduce your risk of developing gum disease. Systemic diseases and certain medications can also affect the health of your gums.
All dental insurance plans or dental savings plans will charge a different monthly premium. These will vary depending on the number of individuals that you're enrolling in the plan, the type of plan you’re applying for, and the level of coverage you need. Most affordable dental insurance plans will charge you different prices for individuals and children and then, after a certain number of individuals, they just charge a flat family fee.
Choosing a plan that’s right for you depends on many factors, including the ages and number of people in your family, and whether you or a family member needs orthodontic care. Some dental plans provide low copays, while others provide discounts on services. No matter which plan you select, you’ll have access to a large network of dental providers.