The economic impact of COVID-19 has left 6.2 million Americans, not counting their dependents, without health coverage, according to an estimate by The Economic Policy Institute. Roughly 90% of Americans with dental insurance are a member of a group plan, according to the National Association of Dental Plans, so it is likely that many people also lost their dental coverage.
If you're one of these people, you may be thinking about holding off on getting dental insurance until things improve. But that's not a great idea – research indicates that maintaining good oral health is important way to protect yourself from COVID-19, and may also reduce the risk of the most serious complications associated with the virus.
Additionally, untreated gum disease and dental decay have also been linked with medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and respiratory infections. One study found that people with gum disease were twice as likely as others to die from a heart attack and three times as likely to have a stroke. Now is definitely not a good time to take health risks. So try not to skip dental care, assuming that you can do so safely.
What To Do Right Away After Losing Dental Insurance
Your immediate goal is to find a way to save money on dental care and the cost of your coverage. And while dental care may not be the first thing on your mind when your whole world has changed, it's important to act as soon as you know you can no longer count on employer-provided coverage. Waiting until you have a dental emergency, or delaying even a few months, can end up costing you in the long run.
If you no longer have insurance through your employer but want to stay with the same insurance provider, try talking to the plan's customer service department. Explain that you had employer provider coverage and ask if there is a way that you can switch to a private plan, without any waiting periods, preexisting condition limits and restrictions on treatments that you would normally experience when enrolling in a new insurance plan. Providers are often willing to work with you, but you need to make the switch to private coverage quickly or you may not qualify for a waiver.
If you'd like to switch insurance providers, ask that provider's customer service rep or an insurance broker if the provider will waive new enrollee restrictions if you can provide proof of continuous coverage under your old plan. The idea here is that if you have been insured, you have been getting regular dental care and enjoy good oral health. The restrictions are in place to keep people from waiting to purchase insurance until they have serious oral health issues. Be aware that some insurance providers limit the waiver to people who have only been uninsured for a month or two, so don't delay.
Additional Ways To Get Affordable Dental Care
You may qualify for affordable healthcare insurance through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace or your state's Marketplace, if one exists. You don't have to wait for the annual open enrollment period, as job loss is a "life event" that may qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period, so you can purchase a plan from the Marketplace right away. You can choose health insurance that includes dental coverage or select a standalone dental plan, but you can't buy a standalone Marketplace dental plan unless you're buying a health plan at the same time.
If you primarily want dental coverage for your children, the Marketplace can be a good place to look for healthcare and dental insurance. Dental coverage options for adults can be somewhat limited though, and you may want to explore other options if you don't have young dependents.
You may also qualify for Medicaid, a state-run program that provides medical benefits, which may include dental benefits. States set their own guidelines regarding eligibility and what services are covered. Typically, Medicaid provides limited emergency dental services for people age 21 or over, and more comprehensive services for those under 21. If you have children, The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) may also be an option for health and dental coverage.
Cost-Effective Alternatives That Can Save You Money Right Now
If you're accustomed to having traditional dental insurance, you may not be aware that there are other ways to save on quality dental care, such as dental savings plans.
Also known as dental discount plans, dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to traditional dental insurance. Plan members get discounts of 10-60% on the typical fees charged by dentists, for most dental procedures. You can review a plan's documentation to see how much you'll save on a specific procedure. And it's easy – you pay the discounted rate directly to any participating dentist or dental specialist when you receive care.
"Dental savings plans have been available for over 20 years, and interest in them has been rapidly growing over the past few years especially. Dental savings plans offer significant savings and, often, more flexibility than traditional dental insurance, " says Jenn Stoll, chief commercial officer of DentalPlans.com, a leading online marketplace for dental savings plans in the U.S., and the Chairperson of the Consumer Health Alliance.
"Dental savings plans can also be an excellent way to reduce overall health care costs as most plans include discounts on prescriptions, hearing and vision care and other essential services," added Stoll. "People may not be able to afford private insurance that offers the same comprehensive coverage as group plans, so these additional benefits are important. Some plans even include unlimited, virtual telehealth services."
Advantages Of Dental Savings Plans
Like dental insurance, dental savings plans help plan members reduce the cost of dental care. But dental savings plans offer their own unique advantages. These include:
No spending limit: Dental insurance coverage is typically limited to $1000-$1500 a year – about the cost of a single root canal and a crown. After you hit the limit, you pay out of pocket until your plan resets. You also have to keep paying your monthly premiums too. Dental savings plans do not have annual spending limits, and can be used as often as needed. Since one root canal and a crown can blow your dental budget for a year, having no spending limit is a big cost-saver.
Immediate savings: Dental savings plans can be used to save on virtually all dental treatments as soon as it activates, typically within 1-3 business days. No need to delay getting the care you need because of costs or insurance waiting periods.
Flexibility: Dental insurance, as noted above, may not cover existing conditions, or dental work already in progress. The majority of dental savings plans do provide discounts on treatment for missing or failing teeth, and you can also save on in-progress dental work.
Additional discounts: Many dental savings plans include savings on prescription medications, vision and hearing care and other healthcare services. If you can't find affordable private insurance that covers these costs, a dental savings plan can be a huge help.
Less expensive than insurance: The average price of a dental savings plan, according to information on DentalPlans.com, is $125.00 a year for an individual, and $170.00 for a family. And you can find plans starting at $79.00. Dental insurance will typically cost $450-$500 annually for an individual policy ($800 - $950 for a family) with a very basic "preventive care only" dental insurance plan starting at about $125.00. Factor in that dental savings plans don't have a deductible, annual spending limits or waiting periods for restorative care, and the cost difference becomes even more apparent.
How To Choose The Right Dental Plan
Dental savings plans offer many options so it's easy to find a plan that fits your budget and needs. Some may offer great savings on orthodontic care, for example, while others may be the right choice for a person who needs dental implants and other restorative care. You may also want to choose a plan that fills in gaps in your healthcare coverage, or that your current dentist accepts if you don't want to switch.
Choosing from the many options may seem overwhelming, but it's the financially smart thing to do. Thankfully, there are ways to make the process easier. Large online marketplaces that sell dental savings plans and dental insurance are a great place to look if you're unsure which option would work best for you. DentalPlans.com makes the process even easier, with the ability to search insurance and savings plans based on dental procedures you need, the dentists near you that accept a particular plan, or overall cost savings.
"At DentalPlans.com, our mission is to educate and inform Americans about the importance of dental care, and all the ways that they can reduce the cost of that care," says Stoll. "It's important for people to know they have options, and that they can afford to maintain their health during these challenging times."
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