Are dental price clubs misleading?

June 11, 2012

Issue 6

Ben Popken, columnist for the personal finance blog Smart Money, points out that most dental insurance coverage plans are poor. Dental price clubs, which offer pre-negotiated lower rates to consumers, might be a better option for the uninsured or those who have maxed out their annual insurance payout.

Ben Popken, columnist for the personal finance blog Smart Money, points out that most dental insurance coverage plans are poor. Dental price clubs, which offer pre-negotiated lower rates to consumers, might be a better option for the uninsured or those who have maxed out their annual insurance payout.

While rates are low and the cost of two yearly checkups are often fully covered, payouts for actual dental work are pretty low. Smart Money notes that payouts on most plans are between $1,000 and $2,000 per year, and those numbers haven't changed since the 70s.

Instead of using traditional dental benefits, they suggest looking at discount plans (like the ones from Northeast Dental Plan, Careington, Brighter.com, and dentalplans.com). These plans cost between $75 and $150 per year and provide the consumer with pre-negotiated lower rates. In a comparison, procedures through dental insurance and discount plans cost about the same the first time around, but because yearly maximums were quickly met with insurance the discount plans often saved more money for people requiring multiple procedures per year.

Dr. Richard Goren, DDS and Second VP of Group Dental, Guardian, says traditional dental benefits offer "safer, more sure" coverage and that "discount plans are fine for people with no other options."

However, the rates posted on dental price clubs "can be misleading to patients," said Dr. Jeffrey Kramer, who owns a private practice in Brooklyn. For instance, the rate posted online for crowns may not reflect fluctuations in the price of gold, or higher lab fees. "They come in with the list printed out in their hand expecting to pay a certain price," said Kramer, and it leads to "squabbling" with the patients.

In a related post, Adam Dachis, Senior Writer for LifeHacker, points out that experts say the new companies might be worth a look for dental patients. With regular dental coverage, it's usually impossible to get back more than the cost of the premiums (because of co-pays and maximum annual reimbursements). In that sense, dental insurance is a form of pre-payment. But rather than gamble on how much coverage you might need, or wait to get all your work done, a discount plan may be a better deal to pay for, and get, your dental care when you need it.

For more information, be sure to check out the post in its entirety at Smart Money.