Dental Insurance is a Rip Off

 

paying for dental care

One of the worst things about self employment is insurance or lack thereof. After taking my daughter for her back to school dental visit and coming home with $125 less in my pocket, I decided to look into dental insurance. Maybe with all the recent changes in health care, there was a new affordable plan that might save money? Unfortunately, I came to the same verdict as I did after checking a few years ago, dental insurance is a rip off.

If you are self employed or if your work doesn’t offer dental coverage, you can pick up an individual plan. I did not check every plan known to man and the cost varies by area, but I bet they are pretty similar wherever you live.

Cost of Dental Insurance

Looking at ehealthinsurance.com, Humana offers the cheapest plan at $37.98 per month or $455.76 a year for one adult and one child, non tobacco users. So what does this plan give us as far as benefits?

Well, we get up to two free cleanings and one set of bitewing x-rays per year. Sweet! We already do that anyway. That sounds great to get it free, until you look at our annual dental out of pocket expenses without insurance, which are around $371 per year. By having insurance, I would be in the hole $84 for routine dental care.

Coverage for Dental Problems

Am I right that nobody buys insurance for the preventative care but for things that go wrong? I bet dental coverage would be a smart move if I had a cavity. Let’s take a look.

The classic plan covers fillings at 50% after a $150 deductible. I’ve never paid more than $150 for a filling, so I guess I’d need lots of cavities to come out ahead.

I’m sure I’d be glad for my dental insurance if I needed something major, right? Not exactly.

For crowns (prefabricated stainless steel only), the plan pays 50% after the $150 deductible is met. That sounds pretty good because I know crowns can run around $1,200 each. But wait, stainless steel crowns are generally only used for children’s primary teeth or as a temporary measure until a permanent crown can be made from porcelain or other metals. Prefabricated crowns are not custom made and do not hold up in adults over time. So I would still be out $1,200 for my permanent crown or I would have a temporary one that would need to be replaced several times.

Enhanced Dental Plans

An enhanced plan can be purchased for $82 per month. The enhanced version only has a $50 deductible and they pay half on crowns, fillings, and other common dental procedures. It also looks like I can get coverage for a high quality crown, with one big exception.

The most important part of the fine print for both the classic and enhanced plans should be in big bold letters. No matter which dental plan, the annual benefit maximum is $1000!

For that Cadillac plan, I will be paying $984 per year in premiums plus my $50 deductible while the insurance pays out $1000 total. Do they market these plans for people who flunked 8th grade math?

No Buying and Cancelling After Dental Work is Done

A couple of other notable rules:

  • You have to buy the plan for a year.
  • There is a six to 12 month waiting period for major procedures like root canals or crowns.
  • There is a limit of two crowns or root canals the first year and one per year after that.

Forget signing up for and then cancelling a policy after getting a tooth fixed!

What’s a smart person to do?

Take Care of Your Teeth

There are people who have genetically crappy teeth or suffer from accidents, but the need for major dental work is most often caused by lack of cleaning and routine dental care. Brush, floss, don’t crunch on ice, avoid cigarettes like the plague. Seems simple, but from having a sister who is a dentist, I am amazed at how many people don’t brush their teeth regularly!

Get Routine Dental Care

If you catch a cavity early and have it filled, there is no need for root canals and crowns. When something is wrong, get it fixed. Denial is almost always more expensive over the long run.

Self Insure

I probably hear a couple of people a month say that they can’t go to the doctor, optometrist, or dentist because they have no insurance. Insurance is not a requirement. Doctors love self pay patients and might even give a cash discount for not having to fool with filing an insurance claim.

Instead of paying $30, $60, $90 a month to a dental  insurance company, put that money into a savings account. Use a HSA if you have one for extra tax savings. By the end of the year, you’ll be able to afford paying for dental visits.

Look for Coupons or Discounts

I often get coupons in the mail urging me to try out a new dentist for a big percentage off. Groupon is also a great place to look for discount dental rates. I like the dentist I have now and hope I don’t have to change, but if money was tight, you can bet I’d switch if it meant significant savings. Another option is to ask your dentist if she will match a competitor’s ad. It’s easier to keep established patients than find new ones, so there is a good chance your provider will offer the same discount as the office across town.

Think Outside the Box

If you don’t mind spending extra time in the chair, dental schools can be a cheap place to get extensive dental work done. You will be treated by a student or resident who is supervised by an on staff dentist. My sister did all kinds of difficult cases when she was a dental resident. It was a win win for students and patients.

If you have a particular skill that might be of value, ask your dentist to barter. Maybe the office needs a new website or a new coat of paint. You never know until you ask. Just make sure you are actually skilled in what you’re offering for trade.

Another option that I’ve seen recommended is going across the border to Mexico. I don’t know if I would have the nerve, but I see all kinds of signs for cheap dental work when we drive to San Diego. Just remember that even if the dentist is well trained, other countries don’t have the same strict rules as the US regarding malpractice and standard of care. This can be good or bad.

I guess dental insurance won’t be in the cards for my family. Even with Jim’s group plan, the rates and coverage are very similar to what I found online. That doesn’t mean we won’t get great dental care, it just means we won’t get ripped off by buying dental insurance.

Do you believe dental insurance is worth the money? How much do you pay for dental care, with insurance or not?

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23 Comments

  1. Dental insurance is pretty cheap through my employer–even still, I only started carrying it this year. Lucky for us, though, because my husband and I both got cavities for the first time ever in our lives this year. The copays were still a little high, but I was glad to have the coverage.

  2. When I got my first job, I signed up for dental insurance. While the out of pocket of the insurance wasn’t too bad, it was a complete waste of money. After I visited the dentist for my checkup, my insurance only covered about half the cost.

    Sounds OK but when I did the math, my premiums totaled more than they covered for my treatment! During open enrollment the following year, I canceled the coverage.

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