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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.
Almost all dental insurance companies use what is called a Usual, Customary, and Reasonable (UCR) fee guide. This means that they set their own price that they will allow for every dental procedure that they cover. This is not based on what a dentist actually charges, but what the dental insurance company wishes to cover. For example, your dentist may charge $78 for a dental cleaning, but your insurance company will only allow $58 because that is the UCR fee that they have set.
I could have paid the average of $360 a year for a dental policy in my twenties. Or I could have paid out of pocket for two dental exams, including cleanings and X-rays, which, in 2011, cost an average of $370 combined. In that case dental insurance wouldn’t have saved me much money. And if I went to a dental school or clinic for treatment, I could have saved even more on out-of-pocket costs.
Since buying cheap dental insurance will mean that going to the dentist could cost you more, you might also be less likely to go to the dentist or you could put the visit off if you have a problem. This could lead to bigger issues with your dental health which could lead to more expensive procedures and treatment. For example, if you put off treating a cavity, you could end up needing a root canal.
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.
If you are a senior or are approaching retirement, you may be surprised to find out that Medicare does not provide coverage for routine dental care. Medicare mainly covers medical treatments, but does not provide any assistance for routine dental care such as bi-annual exams, cleanings, or even major services like bridges or dentures. This leaves it to seniors to search for a dental plan that can meet their coverage needs.
In the United States, Participating Provider Network or PPO, also referred to as Preferred Provider Organization, is an organization governed by medical doctors, hospitals, other health centers, and medical care providers. This organization has an agreement with an insurer or the third party administrator to provide health insurance to the people associated with their client at reduced or low rates. Participating Provider Network plan may work similar to a DHMO while using an In-Network facility. However, a PPO allows Out-of-Network or Non-Participating Providers to be used for service. Any difference of fees will become the financial responsibility of the patient, unless otherwise specified.
Dental insurance almost always picks up 100 percent of the bill for routine checkups and cleanings. Coverage for common procedures like root canals and fillings are typically covered at 80 percent, although policies with higher premiums cover up to 90 percent. You are then responsible for the remaining 10 to 20 percent of the cost, called coinsurance. Most plans cover higher-priced and more involved procedures at 50 percent, so you should have some savings set aside for what your insurance does not cover. Still, with relatively low premiums, having dental insurance is far less expensive on average than paying cash for all dental procedures.
Discount dental plans are not insurance. However they provide a low cost alternative to dental insurance plans. Dental discount plans have a small monthly fee that allows you to receive substantial discounts for procedures with the plans’ In Network dental providers. With discount plans, you only pay the specific discounted amount for the procedures you have. These discounts can be 40-50% off typical retail costs for services. If the cost of care is a significant factor you may want to consider a discount dental plan with a carrier like Careington dental.
AARP, Aetna, Blue Cross, Humana, and Delta Dental are a few of the many insurance companies that offer dental plans to seniors. Each company may offer more than one type of dental plan and it is important to pay close attention to more than just the cost of the dental policy. Choosing the best dental plan for a senior is a balancing act between cost, affordability, and need. A good approach is to start by understanding what the senior’s dental needs are and then make a table so that as you begin to compare the different dental plans you can narrow down those plans that are good and remove those plans that are either too costly for the coverage they provide or that do not fit the senior’s dental needs.
For those seniors who enjoy good dental health and are looking mainly for preventive care and basic services, Ameritas Dental may be a good option to consider. For those looking to save money, if you only need one preventive/maintenance checkup per year, you can buy a dental plan through Ameritas that will cost less than plans with more services. The company also offers a dental rewards program where you can roll over unused coverage from one policy term to the next if you did not use dental services during the year.
While some financial planners suggest dental insurance may not be worth paying for, we did the math to discover that it is usually worth it, provided you attend all of your allowable preventive exams and cleanings. We also learned that if you need any type of work such as a root canal or filling, you will definitely notice a cost savings. However, premiums vary greatly, not only by the type of plan, but by location and age. So you'll want to obtain a few quotes for insurance companies that provide coverage in your area. You'll also want to verify that your dentist accepts your chosen insurance before you sign up with a new provider.
There can sometimes be significant differences between the dental insurance plans that employers sponsor and those that you obtain as an individual. One big (and obvious) difference is that usually employers pay for part or all of the dental insurance plan, whereas if you're buying a plan by yourself you have to pay for the whole thing. Some employers are also able to get a better deal because they're buying insurance in in bulk for all their employees. But, if you shop around, you could potentially get a plan that is similarly priced or even cheaper.
In general the dental insurance companies at the top of our review list provide a range of plan options to numerous areas of the country. We also considered average yearly preventive care costs across numerous zip codes and compared that number to possible yearly premium costs. This helps predict whether the premium costs would, on average, be less than the cost of preventive care paid out of pocket. Keep in mind that co-pays and other small fees might also determine whether you will break even by paying for dental insurance, but our numbers can give you a general idea of what you can expect. It was not surprising to learn that those who charge a higher premium may cover more and those with a lower premium might cover less. This means that if you pay more monthly you might receive more complete coverage, and if you pay less per month you might be expected to pay a bit more during the time of treatment. So you'll need to decide whether you want to pay more per month or make up a bit of the difference when you visit your dentist.
Humana individual dental plans are insured or offered by Humana Insurance Company, HumanaDental Insurance Company, Humana Insurance Company of New York, The Dental Concern, Inc., CompBenefits Insurance Company, CompBenefits Company, CompBenefits Dental, Inc., Humana Employers Health Plan of Georgia, Inc., Humana Health Benefit Plan of Louisiana, Inc., or DentiCare, Inc. (DBA CompBenefits). Discount plans are offered by HumanaDental Insurance Company, Humana Insurance Company, or Texas Dental Plans, Inc. Arizona residents insured by Humana Insurance Company. Texas residents insured or offered by Humana Insurance Company, HumanaDental Insurance Company, or DentiCare, Inc. (DBA CompBenefits).