How to Compare Dental Insurance Plans for Seniors

May 7th 2016

Dental care is often an afterthought for seniors who are putting together a comprehensive health care coverage package. Part of the problem is that Medicare generally doesn't cover dental expenses, and Medicaid is rarely sufficient to cover all of a senior's expenses. Standard health insurance policies for seniors, such as Medicare supplements, are also unlikely to carry comprehensive dental coverage. This makes it essential to know what types of coverage are available when making arrangements for dental care.

Access Areas Matter

The first consideration for many seniors is access to dental care providers. If a senior's dental plan is part of a larger health care policy, the dental network that carrier uses may have been treated as an afterthought and have very few dentists in the area who are able to receive payment from smaller carriers. Larger networks are more likely to have a dentist available who is accepting new patients, but larger, more comprehensive dental plans are often sold as standalone policies, which may be more expensive than an add-on feature of a former employer's benefits package.

Affordability Varies Widely

Costs are just as important to most seniors as accessibility. For low-income seniors, some public plans are available to help with what would otherwise be prohibitively expensive dental services. Unfortunately, such programs are not uniformly available. Medicaid, for example, is jointly administered between state and federal governments, and the coverage it offers varies enormously by state. While some states, such as California, offer limited benefits at reduced or fully subsidized prices, other states either impose high co-pay requirements or deny coverage altogether. Private plans are more reliably available but range from low-fee, high-co-pay PPO plans to high-fee, low- or no-co-pay plans.

Coverage Levels Must be Considered

Another area where plans differ significantly is in the services they are willing to cover. Delta Dental, for example, offers two PPO plans and a dental HMO. The PPOs impose a 12-month waiting period, during which the senior must be continuously covered, before authorizing certain procedures such as dental implants. Delta's HMO plan, however, does not impose a waiting period and provides coverage for approximately 100 services not covered by either PPO. Before choosing an option, it is important to develop an accurate idea of the demands you intend to place on your dental plan. This helps determine whether a high-cost, high-coverage model is appropriate, or whether a more affordable plan will suffice.

Choosing a dental provider is at least as complicated a task as choosing the right health care provider. Which plan is right differs from one senior to another, but all dental coverage shoppers do well to compare plans on the basis of network size, coverage level and likely cost of services to ensure that retirement does not mean giving up adequate dental care.

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