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Avoid painful dental bills with insurance -- Page 2

Dental indemnity (traditional insurance) plans: Much rarer when it comes to individual coverage. When you can find it, the average monthly premium for single coverage is $40, according to the NADP.

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Can you get group coverage?
Just because you are buying as an individual doesn't mean you can't get group coverage. Some credit unions, professional associations and affinity groups, such as AARP, offer members access to group dental. Under this system, you pick up the entire cost of the premium and get the buying power of being included in a group.

For instance, AARP recently started offering a group PPO plan to its members through Delta Dental. For one person, monthly premiums range from $30 to $45, says Album. Many areas -- such as preventative, diagnostic and restorative treatments, endodontics and oral surgery -- are covered immediately, and the premium is guaranteed for two years, he says.

Another group option: voluntary dental from an employer. Again, you pay 100 percent of the premium but the terms are usually better than with an individual plan.

"It might not be the best price in town, but it might be better than buying individual dental insurance," says Donald H. Baggett, senior consultant, Benefit Resources Inc. And if your employer offers the option of paying your premiums with pretax dollars, that will offer a nice bit of savings, he says.

If you or a spouse is losing a job, look into continuing your coverage through COBRA, says Baggett. Again, you pick up the entire premium but you retain the benefits of the group plan. It may also be an option if you're a dependent losing access to coverage through divorce or because you've outgrown the plan's age limitations, he says.

Discount plans
Dental discount plans are also becoming more popular.

How it works: the plan negotiates with various dentists for set discounts on certain procedures. Joining a plan generally costs up to $15 monthly and dental discounts may be bundled with other benefits like eye care, says Ireland.

While the patient is responsible for paying the bill (minus the discount) on the spot, the savings can be "pretty significant," especially with major restorative work, says Ireland.

The downside: Plans are also "largely unlicensed by state authorities," she says.

They also don't offer the same dispute rights, says Linda Sherry, spokeswoman for Consumer Action, a nonprofit advocacy and education group

Ireland's advice: buy the product through a major insurance carrier, which will be licensed. Another place to look: the NADP Web site. Companies listed there are more likely to have been in the industry longer and be "a little more predictable," she says. You can also ask companies if they are affiliated with a national organization, says Ireland. But always verify their answer with the organization itself.

Reputable plans will remind you they are not true insurance coverage and will gladly spell out all of the terms and conditions in a consumer-friendly manner before you sign up, says Ireland. They should have a Web site, easily available contact information and be registered corporations in their home state. Ask which dentists are included and what the discounts are for various procedures.

Says Ireland, "Anybody who asks you to send money before they send you material: run as fast as you can."

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

-- Posted: March , 2005




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