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.
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As a Medicare beneficiary, you are free to shop for a stand-alone private dental plan for seniors. Some dental plan types are PPO plans* and others are indemnity plans. A PPO stands for preferred provider organization. This is a type of plan that contracts with dental providers to create a network of participating providers. If you want to use a dentist out of network, you usually can for an additional cost. An indemnity plan allows you to visit almost any dentist you like with the plan paying a portion of your total charges. Indemnity plans are also called “fee-for-service” plans.

DentalPlans.com isn’t an insurance company, but they work with dental service providers to reduce the cost to see an out-of-network dentists. In this way the company gives access to some of the same dental benefits offered by employers through typical group insurance, but more closely resembles a prescription discount card. For example, the estimate we received for a 6-month checkup was only $15. The annual cost for the plans range from $100 – $175 depending on the location and number of people covered.
People buying their own dental insurance (as opposed to those covered by an employer's plan) sometimes get a nasty surprise when they sign up: a waiting period. Unlike regular health insurance, in which coverage usually starts immediately or at the beginning of the next month, dental plans often come with a delay between enrollment and the actual onset of coverage for some or all services. It could be six months to a year or more.
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.
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.
A PPO, or preferred provider organization, is the most common type of dental insurance. This plan has arranged reduced rates with dentists. These dentists are called in-network because they will work with the insurance company. You can go out of network if you have a PPO plan, but you will not get the benefit of the reduced rates. It’s best to check to see if your preferred dentist is in-network before you buy insurance.
Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Group Universal Life (GUL) insurance plans are insured by CGLIC. Life (other than GUL), accident, critical illness, hospital indemnity, and disability plans are insured or administered by Life Insurance Company of North America, except in NY, where insured plans are offered by Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York (New York, NY). All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.
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