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Should I Buy a Discount Dental Plan?

Jul 15, 2008
Dental Discount Plans have become increasing popular. You will see ads for them everywhere. But there are differences between the plans and you need to understand these differences before you buy one for yourself and your family.

The first and most important thing to know is that a dental plan is not dental insurance. A dental plan is a fee-for-service plan. You will pay for the services you receive from a dentist. However, you will pay a discounted fee for that service. You may not go to any dentist. In order to get the fee advertised, you will have to go to the dentists listed on the network of the plan you buy. Do not go to any dentist not on the list because as a non-participating provider they are not obligated to honor the discount fee and will charge you their regular fee for the service provided.

Just because it's not insurance doesn't mean it's not a good option. For many people it is a much better option than traditional dental insurance. What are the advantages of a dental plan over dental insurance? There actually are many and the first and most important is price. On average dental insurance will cost about $40 per person per month. A family of 4 may pay as much as $150 per month. If part of that premium is paid by an employer, this may be worth it. But for individuals who do not have dental insurance through an employee, this cost may be prohibitive.

Dental plans charge consumers a membership fee which allows the consumer to get services from a participating dentist at significantly discounted rates. What do I mean by a participating provider? When you purchase a membership in a dental plan, you will get two things. First, a list of services showing the usual rate charged for this service and the rate a participating dentist will charge members of this plan. The discounts can be significant but be wary of plans that offer discounts that are too good. More about that in a moment.

The second list you will get is a list of dentists who are part of the plan network. These dentists are the participating providers. They have agreed to charge the members of a specific plan the amount listed on the fee schedule. When you visit a participating dentist be sure that you have a copy of the fee schedule that was listed by the plan when you purchased your membership. That will insure that you are charged the correct amount for the service provided.

The cost of a membership will vary by plan, location and the number of dentists in the network. However, the cost of a membership is significantly less than the cost of traditional dental insurance. For instance, membership in a good discount dental plan may cost an individual as little as $105 a year and a family of 4 as little as $150 a year to join. What is a good discount dental plan and how can you choose correctly?

It is very important to compare all the plans available in your area. Use a site like Prestige Dental Planners to locate the dental plans in your area and compare the benefits offered by each company. By entering a zip code, you will be shown all the plans in your area. Look carefully at the benefits and fee schedules offered. Look very closely at the list of participating dentists. It will not do you any good to buy a membership in a plan that has only a few dentists or only has dentists who are located many miles from your home.

Not all plans are offered in all areas. It is important to enter your zip code and then look at the available plans. Look at the fee schedule. Compare all of them. Some plans have been known to inflate the cost of a service to make it seem like the discount is better than it is. Check several fee schedules to get a true picture of what dental services in your area really cost.

The plan will tell you if it is a nationwide or regional plan. Think about how you will use the plan before you make a selection. A family that has children who are away at school may need a nationwide plan with participating dentists in many different locations.

One thing that has helped the reliability of dental plans in recent years is the participation of carriers who in the past only wrote traditional dental insurance. Aetna is a leader in this area, as it now offers several different dental plans, as well as continuing to offer traditional dental insurance to both individuals and employers. There may be an advantage to going with a well known carrier who offers both dental insurance and dental plans. These carriers already have networks of participating providers in their insurance networks. You may find that the number of participating dentists in their networks is very large. You may even find your own dentist is a participant. But don't assume anything. Even if you recognize the name of the carrier, do your comparison of the plans in your area.

In addition to price, dental plans have other advantages over dental insurance. There are no waiting periods. Dental insurance, especially for what are called major services, require you to be on the plan for a specific number of months before they will pay a benefit. A crown, for instance, will not be paid for under a dental insurance plan until you have been on the insurance for 12 months. With a dental plan, you can buy a crown at the discounted rate immediately.

There is no annual maximum with a dental plan as there is with dental insurance. Your benefits will not be limited. As long as you can afford the fee listed on the schedule, you can use the services as often as needed.

Certain service like cosmetic dentistry are never available as part of a dental insurance plan. Some of the dental plans will offer services such as cosmetic procedures at a discounted rate.

Finally, a word about orthodontia. Braces, whether for children or adults, are rarely covered under dental insurance unless the plan is offered through an employer with more than 10 employees. Even if orthodontia is offered, it may be subject to the annual maximum for the plan. There is now a dental plan which if exclusively a nationwide orthodontic discount plan. This plan offers discounts of 15% to 20% but only from the orthodontists participating in their network. The plan also requires an additional yearly membership. However, considering the price of braces and other orthodontic appliances, it may be worth the fee. It may even be worth your while to join this plan if you have dental insurance with a low annual maximum or one that does not cover orthodontia. Make sure you can find an orthodontist in your area that you like and trust before committing to another plan.

Dental plans have come a long way since they were first introduced as discount cards. They are affordable and for the right consumers they can provide a significant savings and insure that you and your family members get the regular dental treatments you should have to protect your health and well being.
About the Author
Sheila Guilloton is the owner of Prestige Planners an agency specializing in the placement of health and dental insurance for over 12 years. For complete information on the care of your teeth and mouth, visit http://www.prestigedentalplanners.com
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