Seniors are often faced with a difficult choice when it comes to their dental health. Original Medicare doesn’t offer any coverage for routine dental care, and without employer subsidies, private dental insurance for seniors can be more pricey than expected.
Here’s how to figure out how to get the best value for your dental insurance as a senior.
Dental insurance and Medicare
Original Medicare doesn’t offer any coverage for routine dental care. It may cover emergency dental treatments in a hospital, such as jaw fractures or oral infections, but fillings, root canals and cleanings are all going to be out of pocket. That includes Medicare supplement plans, aka Medigap, which can provide more coverage than Original Medicare but still doesn’t offer dental, vision or hearing care.
Many Medicare Advantage Plans, also known as Medicare Part C, distinguish themselves by having dental, vision and/or hearing insurance as a part of their plans. Medicare Advantage Plans are Medicare plans run by private insurance companies, and plans with expanded coverage charge additional premiums as low as $0.
The downside of a Medicare Advantage Plan for many patients is the return to a limited private insurance network of approved doctors, so it’s important to compare networks before making a final decision. If you find a plan with a network of doctors and dentists that meets your needs, Medicare Advantage can be one of the most affordable ways to get dental care as a senior.
The cost and benefit of private dental insurance
If Medicare Advantage isn’t for you, seniors on Medicare also have the option of purchasing their own private dental insurance plans.
The downside of paying full price for insurance premiums is that they can be over $50 a month, which can be a hefty price tag if you don’t make much use of your plan. There also may be waiting periods and coverage maximums depending on the plan you choose.
However, nearly all dental insurance plans make it very affordable to go to the dentist for routine care such as cleanings, x-rays and root canals. Not only does this save you money every year, but if it encourages you to see a dentist more regularly, it can help you avoid more extensive (and pricey) dental problems in the future.
Dental discount plans and payment plans
Some common alternatives to dental insurance are dental discount plans and payment plans. Both of these are negotiated between individual dentists or groups of dentists and patients, so their exact terms can vary widely.
Dental discount plans charge a flat annual fee and then offer a certain discounted rate on all procedures at select dentists throughout the year. The savings for a dental discount plan is typically lower than dental insurance per procedure, but these plans won’t have coverage maximums or waiting periods, which can be an advantage in certain circumstances.
Payment plans can be arranged directly with some dentists, and are simply a way of paying for high cost dental procedures in smaller installments, rather than a lump sum. Paying through a payment plan will still mean that you’re paying for the entire cost of a procedure, but in an emergency, this solution can help patients avoid having a dental procedure turn into high interest debt with a loan or credit card.