Is dental insurance worth the cost?
(Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Debra A. of Spartanburg, S.C.)
These days, employers hardly ever offer dental insurance as a part of their benefit package to employees.
Because many individual dental plans seem to cost more than paying out-of-pocket for things like routine cleanings, most people opt to go without. But don't write off dental plans so fast. Many can save you serious money in the long run. While many dental policies focus on preventive measures by offering two annual visits, you'll really start seeing the savings with more expensive treatments, like root canals and crowns.
Dental insurance provides you with peace of mind that no matter what the cause of that ache in your mouth, you're covered.
Types of dental insurance
The main three types of dental plans are HMO (short for health maintenance organization), PPO (preferred provider organization) and discount plans. HMOs and PPOs work in many ways like regular health insurance. HMOs limit coverage to dentists within a specific network. PPOs allow you choose from a network of "preferred" providers. You don't have to select a dentist from that network, but you will have to pay a higher amount if you do.
Another type of dental insurance offers a discount plan to enrollees. You pay an annual premium, and the insurance picks up a percentage of your dental costs when you go to providers within the network. These plans typically cost less than HMOs and PPOs, but they won't save you as much money in the long run.
What dental insurance covers
HMOs and PPOs typically offer "100-80-50" coverage. That means that your insurance will pick up 100 percent of preventive care (like cleanings and X-rays), 80 percent for basic services (such as fillings) and 50 percent for major procedures (like crowns and root canals). Discount plans typically provide a list for all procedures up front. Most dental plans will not cover cosmetic procedures.
To research dental costs, take a look at Healthcare Blue Book, a free online guide that lists fair prices for health care services. The fair price is what a health service provider typically allows from insurance companies as full payment, which is substantially less than the billed amount. You'll start getting a feel for how much common procedures costs and how much you can save.
For example, according to the Healthcare Blue Book, the national fair price for a full crown is $861. (The fair price in your area will vary.) Therefore, an HMO or PPO dental plan could save you about $430 per crown.
What you can expect to pay
The cost of dental insurance varies depending on your provider and benefit level. Typically, group plans like those offered by your employer cost less than individual plans. Either way, dental insurance may cost you less than you think. For example, if you pay $180 per year and get two free cleanings, you'll break even on your premium without even considering a cavity or other dental work you may need. Every additional service you need throughout the year increases your savings.
If you can't swing the monthly premium of HMOs and PPOs, look into a discount plan. Typically, the savings you'll see on one to two cleanings per year will make up for the cost of the plan as well. Dental plans will cost around $75 a year and will provide you with a list of predetermined rates.
Choosing a dental insurance plan
Choosing a dental insurance plan may not be as hard as remembering to floss each morning, but that doesn't mean it's easy. If you have a trusted health insurance broker, take the time to research a few plans and weigh the cost of the premium and the benefits offered. The best plan for you depends on the amount of dental work you expect each year. Once you choose a plan, take comfort in knowing your pearly whites are protected, no matter what comes up.