When I transitioned from a full-time job to being self-employed, one of the biggest hurdles I faced was finding low-cost health insurance. Finding affordable dental insurance proved to be even more difficult. First, I couldn’t find any dental insurance with benefits comparable to what I was getting from my full-time job. Second, even insurance with very basic coverage cost over a thousand dollars per year for two people. Reading the fine print, I discovered that benefits were capped at a thousand dollars! Why would I want such a product? I decided to dig deeper to see how I could find affordable dental insurance and make dental care cheaper. Here is what I found.
How to find affordable dental insurance
Comparison shop: Like any other type of insurance, start by comparing the coverage and premiums of different plans. Sites like Dentalplans.com or eHealthinsurance.com are good places to start.
Check with your dentist: A lot of dentists now offer savings plans. My dentist offers a plan called SmileMore Dental Savings Plan. For about $200 a year, I can get as many cleanings as I want (for $10 each), free exams and x-rays. If I want any other procedures done, like crowns or dental implants, I can get them done at a 25 percent discount. If your dental health is very good, this might be a great option.
Check your alma mater: My school sends me a letter every year asking for donations. The letter always accompanies a list of benefits I receive as an alumnus, one of them being group dental insurance. I asked for a quote using the group discount and found that, while it was not the cheapest, it definitely brought the rate down significantly.
Check trade-related associations: Are you part of any professional associations? A lot of them offer group discounts for their members. For example, freelancers union offers group dental insurance at a discounted cost to their members. This ended up being the best option for me.
Have a warehouse club membership?Check their benefits: When I lived in California, I had an option of purchasing dental insurance via Costco. At this time, they only offer this benefit to residents of California. Sams Club doesn’t seem to offer dental insurance, but they have a dental plan that offers a significant discount if you use one of the covered dentists.
Check the new health care marketplace: Dental insurance is not mandatory, so it is not offered by all the states’ marketplaces. Among the states that offer dental insurance, some include it as part of health insurance and some offer it as a standalone product.
Work part time for benefits: If I want the best coverage for a reasonable cost, unfortunately, this is the best option. A lot of companies offer insurance benefits for part-time employees. Even if they don’t pay the premium, the group discount alone could save you a lot.
How to lower the cost of dental procedures
Make use of a Health Savings Plan or Flexible Spending Account if you have access to them.
Get the procedures done at a dental school: If you don’t mind being treated by students — they will be supervised — you can use dental schools that offer free or discounted care to the public. You can use the American Dental Association site to find a school close to you.
Negotiate the cost of the procedure: As with any type of medical care, you should never assume the price quoted for a particular service is the final price. Check for the average cost of the procedure you are looking to get done in your area. I used the FAIR Health Consumer and Health Care Blue Book to get an estimate. Ask your dentist to match that amount or give an explanation on why it is different.
Ask for discounts: Ask your dentist if they offer any discount for paying in cash or paying in full.
Don’t miss the health insurance deduction if you are self-employed: This is not a way to get cheaper dental insurance; but deducting the premium you pay for yourself and your family from your income will save money in taxes, essentially making the insurance itself a little cheaper.
Consider free and low-cost health clinics: Some community health clinics also offer dental care on a sliding-fee basis. Call your county health department to find if there are any such clinics nearby.
Look for special programs: This option will depend on your eligibility. There are organizations like Smiles Change Lives, which connect low-income families with charitable orthodontists. Do some research and see if there are any programs that will help you to make your specific procedure more affordable.
Go abroad: In some cases it might be worth it to consider crossing the border to get dental care, especially if you are in one of the border states.
Get a second opinion if a dentist claims you need an expensive or otherwise potentially long term damaging treatment. Dentists will do very questionable things (like destroy two good teeth for a bridge over a missing tooth). Finding a reputable dentist that has been in the same office for a very long time is much preferable to the “offices” with high turnovers.
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