DENTAL INSURANCE: WORTH THE PREMIUM YOU PAY … OR SIMPLY A “TIME PAYMENT PLAN”?

 

 

 

Op-ed by D. Kenton Henry

“Is dental insurance really worth the premium I pay?” is one question I am asked frequently. It is often followed, almost instantly, by―”Or am I simply paying for my dental work on a time a payment plan?”

My answer to both questions is a definitive, “Maybe.”

If you, as the majority do, have dental insurance through your employer, that employer is subsidizing all or part of your premium. This convenience makes for a solution to the equation, more favorable to you. In contrast―if you are self-employed, retired, or otherwise personally have to pay the full amount of a dental insurance premium―the opposite may be true. That is unless you take some straightforward advice, I am about to provide. If you do not, you most likely will only be spreading your cost for dental work over time. Even worse, dental insurance could prove to be a “loss item” in that you will have paid more in premiums than you will ever receive in benefits.

Short of taking a long drive and crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico to obtain your dental work, what can you do to offset the cost of say, a dental implant, which, on this side of the border, is going to run from $3,500 to $7,000?

Let me preface this by with a premise or three:

#1) With no insurance company is “the sky the limit”. I’m referring to the fee they are going to pay a dentist for a particular dental procedure. For example, no insurance company is going to accept a fee of $10,000 for a single porcelain crown. Not even their share of that cost, which is typically 50%. So what is the limit of a fee the insurance company will cover? That limit must be contractually defined, and the limit most insurance companies abide by is, “reasonable and customary” or “reasonable, usual, and customary”. These are empirical standards an insurance company uses to determine whether to pay a fee. Or how much of a fee to pay. If the dentist charges the general prevailing rate in your geographical area, they are going to pay the portion for which they are contractually obligated. Basically, it’s the average charged in your neighborhood. You will be charged more in Beverly Hills, California and less in Brenham, Texas “where the cows think it’s heaven”. Additionally, if “usual” is part of the definition, the fee has to be in line with what this particular dentist charges for a particular procedure. If fee is disproportionate either, or, both, ways―the maximum amount paid by the insurance company will be the limit set in their fee schedule.

#2) A dental insurance plan is either a provider network plan or a non-network plan. If it is a network plan, it is usually either a Dental Preferred Provider Organization (DPPO) Plan or a Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO) Plan. If it is the first, you may go outside the network of dentists with which the insurance company has contracted but will most likely pay a higher cost for doing so. With the latter, you must remain within the network of dentists or, you have no insurance coverage whatsoever. For either of these options, you pay a lower premium than if you purchase a non-network or “any dentist” plan. The reason is that you agree to utilize or, at least, consider utilizing a dentist with whom the insurance company has contracted to charge you a lower fee than they would without the contract. This limits the insurance companies losses and brings increased traffic to the dentist.

#3) This is perhaps the most important part. If you purchase a non-network dental insurance plan, you can, almost, be assured you will be charged more than the insurance company deems acceptable. Additionally, you will be responsible for any dollar amount above their “reasonable and customary” rate. However, if you purchase a network plan, and go within the network of dentists, you will not be held responsible for any “excess” charges. Any charges above the reasonable and customary rate, the dentist will be forced to “write off”. In this situation, you will never have to worry about a surprise bill or claim. If a policy says your share of the bill is 20% or 50%, it will be that and not 20% or 50% plus any excess charges.

Assuming you accept you must acquire a network plan, in order to limit you own losses and surprise dental bills, the challenge becomes, “How do you find a quality dentist willing to accept a lower fee for treating you?” The typical HMO dental provider is typically someone straight out of dental school or who otherwise needs to build their patient base. In return for sending patients their way, the dentist is willing to accept a meaningfully lower fee. If the dentist is a PPO provider, they may have been in business longer, have more experience, and perhaps a reputation for having better skills. But they are willing to accept a somewhat lower fee in return from the many employees a large company may send their way. The dentist who isn’t willing to participate in any network apparently feels they have all the clients they need. That or their reputation is so great it will draw all the traffic they require.

The problem is, unlike a large oil company, as an individual, or family, you don’t bring enough “volume” to the table to bargain for a lower dental fee. At least not by yourself. Therefore, you have to identify and purchase your dental insurance from an insurance company which has the reputation of insuring a large number of employees of that oil company. As well as having a reputation for paying their claims in a timely and efficient manner. A manner such that the dentist wants to be contracted with them. From your standpoint, you want that insurance company to have a reputation for the same when it comes to you and not have to worry about claim disputes.

Another challenge is, at $6,000 for a dental implant, your dental benefit may not go too far. Secondly, does your insurance plan cover implants in the first place? Again, the sky is not the limit. The average dental plan covers a maximum of $1,000 of dental treatment per year. You can pay a higher premium for incremental benefits up to a maximum of $5,000. But a policy which pays that much in year one would cost a fortune and there is typically a twelve-month wait for major dental work to be covered. As such, you may want to find a plan which increases to that limit with each passing year and is available at what you consider a reasonable cost.

How do you find a dental policy which does not subject you to “excess” costs; allows you to see a highly skilled dentist, utilizing the latest technology and performing the most advanced form of treatment; all at a competitive premium? And this from a company which pays the claims they are contractually obligated to pay while doing so in a timely fashion?

This is where I, and my thirty-three years experience in the medical and dental insurance business, come in. My experience as a patient and consumer is even longer. After being in braces for eight years, I had all my front teeth knocked out in an auto accident when they impacted the steering wheel. I was wearing a seat belt, which saved my life, but not a shoulder strap. I’ve had to have the dental work replaced on three occasions since that senior year of high school. This year, I proceeded with what will be one double crown and, ultimately, two implants. (Ouch, is right!) I was not willing to accept this type of work from a mediocre dentist―and certainly did not care to pay cash for it! So I found a policy, issued by a large, financially sound insurance company, with a reputation for excellent customer and claim service. Then I found a policy which ultimately pays the maximum $5,000 annual benefit. In order for it to be affordable to me, it started, December 1 of 2018, at a calendar year benefit of $1,500―immediately went to $2,500 January 1, of this year―and will go to a $5,000 benefit this coming January. So I only paid for a $1,500 benefit for one month before it jumped to a $2,500 benefit! During this year I acquired the double porcelain crown and the bone graft and post for one dental implant. In 2020, I will have the crown for the implant post attached, when my calendar year benefit is $5,000. The second implant is optional, and I will probably have that work done in 2021 when my benefit remains $5K.

Once I knew what company to go with, the final step in selecting my dental insurance policy required finding the right dentist. I reviewed the insurance company’s list of network providers and researched the dentist’s reputation via credentials and reviews. I won’t belabor that but, suffice it to say, I found a dentist who met my requirements. He is very conveniently located relative to any resident of The Woodlands or Spring and, in my opinion, is well worth going to if you reside anywhere in Montgomery County or Northwest Harris County. He utilizes the latest technology, has a great and skilled staff, and a decent, very professional, if not overly effusive, chairside manner.*

 

In summation, in order to make dental insurance worth your while, you need to:

1) accept you need to acquire a “network provider” dental plan

2) find a policy which pays a reasonable benefit based on your foreseeable need, at an affordable premium and

3) allows you to go to a skilled dentist convenient to you

I have done all the homework for you. For over three decades, I have specialized in medical, Medicare-related, and dental insurance. I provide objective quotes from established “A” rated companies and quality customer service. Among the companies I represent are Aetna, Ameritas, Anthem, BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, Delta Dental, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare. I am located in the heart of The Woodlands and am accessible from my websites Allplanhealthinsurance.com and TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com. You may also feel free to contact me at my numbers below.

I look forward to working with and assisting you in acquiring any of the above referenced products.

D. “Kenton” Henry                                                                                                               Editor, Agent, Broker Office: 281-367-6565                                                           Text my cell @ 713-907-7984                          http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com                              http://Allplanhealthinsurance.com                                   http://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com https://linkedin.com/in/kentonhenryinsuranceconsultant

*(Neither I nor my agency and websites are affiliated in any way with a particular dentist or dental office. Neither do we receive compensation from the same for any recommendation we may make.)

CENTER FOR MEDICARE SERVICES DELAYS CUTS TO MEDICARE ADVANTAGE – OR DID THEY?

OBAMA CUTS TO MEDICARE

In a surprise announcement today the Center For Medicare and Medicaid Services gave notice they are reversing planned cuts to Medicare Advantage Plans for 2015. But after all variables are factored in will the end result be an increase or decrease in reimbursements for Medicare approved procedures next year?

If implemented the cuts would have resulted in 2% lower payments to Medicare providers on top of the 6% cuts for 2014. Instead, the agency says, payments will instead be increased 0.4%. Still, with all variables in play, Aetna anticipates payment reductions and Humana estimates a funding decline of 3%. (See feature article from Reuters below.)

OBAMA CUTS TO MEDICARE II

What is the end result of all this? 2014 reductions already saw the termination of thousands of providers from HMO and PPO Medicare Advantage networks. Further reductions are likely to result in more of the same along with probable increases in premiums and copays for medical procedures. And–if not now–certainly when they are ultimately implemented as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Which begs the question: If all these cuts to Medicare Advantage were for the purpose of financing the ACA, what is the long-term impact of delaying them on the financial solvency of the Act? Or was the latter really ever a concern of the administration? Or is it simply the case that concern over the effect of cuts on this fall’s election over-rides the need for the Act to be financially feasible? (In case you were naïve enough to believe feasibility was realistic in the first place.) In light of all the approximately 38 delays and changes in the law since its passage, it is apparent to this author that political expediency rules the day in Washington. In other words, “business as usual”.

– Admin. Kenton Henry

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FEATURE ARTICLE

U.S. insurers still expect cuts in 2015 Medicare payments

By Caroline Humer

Tue Apr 8, 2014 1:40pm EDT

(Reuters) – U.S. health insurers said on Tuesday they still expected cuts in government reimbursements for privately managed Medicare health plans for the elderly next year even after the Obama administration rolled back the steepest reductions.

The government agency that oversees Medicare said late on Monday that on average, reimbursements to insurers for private Medicare plans would rise 0.4 percent, reversing what it said was a proposed cut of 1.9 percent.

The insurance industry and advocates for the elderly had lobbied against the cuts, which were first proposed in February, saying they would reduce benefits for older people.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers had broadly opposed further cuts as well, adding pressure on the administration at a time when President Barack Obama’s healthcare law was also under attack.

After analyzing the final rate notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and comparing it with their own models, health insurers said on Tuesday that the 2015 Medicare Advantage payment rates represented a cut to payments from 2014 levels.

Humana Inc, which derives two-thirds of its revenue from administering Medicare Advantage plans, said it expected a funding decline of about 3 percent for 2015 plans from 2014, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This is slightly better than Humana’s initial forecast for a drop of 3.5 percent to 4 percent in those rates, based on the proposal issued on February 21.

Aetna Inc, which also provides Medicare Advantage plans, said it also anticipated a decline.

“Despite CMS’s actions, Medicare Advantage plans will still face rate decreases for 2015,” Aetna spokeswoman Kendall Marcocci said in a statement. The company is still evaluating the impact, she added.

CMS officials were not immediately available for comment on the insurers’ or analysts’ analyses.

Humana shares fell 1.7 percent on Tuesday. Aetna was little changed, and UnitedHealth Group Inc slipped 0.4 percent.

APPLES-TO-ORANGES

The comments from individual insurers echoed that of industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, which said it was concerned about how the policy will affect the 15 million people who receive privately managed benefits. The balance of the more than 50 million older and disabled people who use Medicare are in a different program run by the government.

“The changes CMS included in the final rate notice will help mitigate the impact on seniors, but the Medicare Advantage program is still facing a reduction in payment rates next year on top of the 6 percent cut to payments in 2014,” AHIP President Karen Ignagni said in a statement.

Wall Street analysts saw an improvement of 2 to 3 percentage points in the government’s funding proposal, but they estimated about a 3 percent cut overall, not an increase of 0.4 percent.

They described an apples-and-oranges comparison between how they calculate the total impact of Medicare reimbursement rates versus how the government does so.

One difference may be that the government analysis did not reflect the 1 percent insurance tax that funds Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, while some analysts included it.

Another factor, some said, is that CMS adjusted its estimates to reflect the worsening health of some Medicare members, while analysts did not.

Analyst Sheryl Skolnick of CRT Capital described the final funding announcement as being “less worse” than anticipated.

“The market was assuming that the final rate would be better than the proposal, and that’s what it got,” Skolnick wrote in a note.

Each year, the government releases its formulas for determining how it will reimburse the insurers for plan members’ procedures and doctor visits. Insurers use this information to decide on the markets where they will offer plans and what benefits they can provide.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Lisa Von Ahn)

http://allplaninsurance.com

http://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com

House to Vote on Affordable Care Act Individual and Employer Mandates

07.17.2013

Currently we have over 800,000 veterans awaiting decisions on their disability claims. The back log is so great–according to the most recent numbers available–the average wait time for a veteran is 15 months in Chicago, 16 months in New York and a year and a half in Los Angeles. Social Security’s disability program, which helps support 11 million Americans, will run through its trust fund in 2016, two years earlier than predicted. Couple this with the prediction Social Security, the fund that finances benefits for 44 million senior citizens and their survivors, will be exhausted by 2035 and Medicare, the health care program for those age 65 and over, will be have depleted its funds by 2024. Now consider a law has been passed which mandates health coverage for every American. Its objectives are largely, and initially, funded via subsidies from the federal government (you the tax payer). Can you possibly believe this is feasible given their track record? Given a federal debt of almost 17 trillion dollars? How long do you believe it will take before all private insurance companies are forced to withdraw from participation to be replaced by a single payer federally administrated program which can’t possibly be any more financially feasible than our government’s disability program, Social Security or Medicare?

Admin. – Kenton Henry

http://allplanhealthinsurance.com

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Today’s Feature Articles:

Legislation and Policy

House Votes To Target ACA Individual, Employer Mandates.

Coverage of the Obama Administration’s decision to delay the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate continues Wednesday, the same day the House is set to vote to further capitalize on the weak position they believe the move has put Democrats in. Most reports, some national in scope, focus on the House votes to delay both the employer and individual mandates, while others focus on the implications of both of these provisions.

McClatchy                          (7/17, Kumar) reports that on Wednesday, the Republican-ruled House is expected to vote to delay key parts of the Affordable Care Act, a move that “is the latest in a sweeping legislative and political campaign to weaken the 2010 law and raise even more opposition in the eyes of an already skeptical nation, especially as it heads into 2014 elections that will decide control of the Congress and set the stage for the 2016 campaign for the White House.” The back-to-back votes will determine “whether to delay insurance mandates for both employers and individuals.”

The Washington Times

(7/16, Howell) reports that “President Obama has threatened to veto” the bills. Meanwhile, “the votes will force Democrats to align with the president or distance themselves from the overhaul in the wake of its recent stumbles.” In addition, it has put the “Office of Management and Budget in the awkward position of threatening, in the case of the employer mandate, to kill a bill that would reflect the White House’s own decision-making.”

CNN

(7/16, Walsh) reports that “most House Democrats are expected to oppose two House Republican bills on Wednesday that would delay key provisions of Obamacare,” according to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

The Hill

(7/17, Baker) “Healthwatch” blog reports that the bill to delay the individual mandate “would cut the deficit, but would cause insurance premiums to rise,” according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Implications Of Employer Mandate Delay Still Unclear. The AP

(7/17, Alonso-Zaldivar) reports on the “domino effect” that is currently “undercutting” the Affordable Care Act: the Obama Administration’s delaying of the law’s employer mandate could “weaken” the individual mandate, because the requirement that companies report health insurance details for employers has also been pushed back. As the article explains, “without employers validating who’s covered, a scofflaw could lie, and the government would have no easy way to check.” The piece calls this yet “another incentive for uninsured people to ignore a new government requirement that for many will cost hundreds of dollars.”

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Not All Insurers Game for State Exchanges: The Consumer Impact

By Kate Rogers

Published July 11, 2013

FOXBusiness

As more insurers decide to pack up and leave certain states as health exchanges start to take form, experts say consumers are going to be left  feeling the pain.

Over the last few weeks, several departure announcements have sent a ripple through the health insurance industry, as companies weigh whether or not they want to play ball under Obamacare. So far, California has experienced the biggest migration  with Aetna (AET), UnitedHealthcare (UNH) and Cigna (CI) leaving the state’s exchange, Covered California.

Aetna also reportedly sent out a note to select customers last week, warning that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is “changing health insurance.” Recipients were customers across the country with non-grandfathered health plans, meaning their plan was not in effect on March 23, 2010 and wouldn’t carry over under new state and federal exchange regulations under ACA.

“This includes adding preventative care and essential health benefits. The ACA also ends medical underwriting. Due to these and other changes, many people will pay more for their health insurance coverage in 2014 than they do today,” the letter stated according to the carrier.

Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield also decided not to list on the individual exchange in Iowa for 2014, due to a lack of information available in the state, according to a spokesperson for the Iowa Insurance Division.

Fifteen states and the District of Colombia are in the process of creating their insurance exchanges before the 2014 deadline; when individuals must purchase insurance or face a fine for failing for comply with the individual mandate. The employer mandate has been pushed back to 2015, and some in the GOP including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, (R-VA), are calling for the individual mandate to be rolled back as well.

More or Less Competition for Consumers?

Some experts say the recent departures hint consumers will have limited health-insurance choices thanks to the regulatory burdens of the law. Basic supply and demand dictates that with fewer insurers to choose from, consumers will have limited options and potentially higher prices, says Michael Cannon, director of Health Policy Studies at the CATO Institute.

A similar “exodus” occurred within the first six months of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Cannon says, when child-only care was enacted. Seventeen major insurers dropped child-only coverage, in an attempt to skirt the law’s new regulations and increased costs. The same may begin to take shape in the individual market.

“The program says you can’t charge higher premiums to the sick, so you have a situation where only low-risk consumers would be charged a premium much higher than their regular costs, so only people who buy it would be those who really needed it,” he says.

The employer mandate rollback is also a factor in the situation, says Grace-Marie Turner, founder of the Galen Institute, a health and tax policy research organization, as employers will now be incentivized to drop coverage and push their employees into the exchanges until 2015.

“It’s using employers to push more people into the exchanges,” Turner says.

Fewer insurers in state exchanges mean less competition, bottom line, she adds. “The whole point is we want more players, and more competition.”

Why California Matters

What happens in California is a big deal for the future of the Affordable Care Act, says Taylor Burke, associate professor and program director, MPH in Health Policy, at George Washington University.

“It’s an exit out the individual market, but [the insurers] only represent 8% of the individual market companies in the state,” Burke says. “California has the 7th largest economy on the globe, so whatever happens in California is a big deal for the stand up of the state exchanges.”

He points to two main reasons insurers leave a state: they don’t like the price points being offered in the exchanges nor the coverage they would have to offer under Obamacare’s 10 essential health benefits.

“In California, you can make the argument that there would be less choice, but if they stay in the market, their prices would be off the charts,” he says. “It would be a thing on the shelf, a high-ticket item that you couldn’t afford anyway.”

And if insurers take too long to make the decision, that may impact them negatively as well, he says.

“No one will want to buy their product. There’s a lot of hemming and hawing, but if the price point is too high, no one will buy it.”

But can consumers blame the insurer for higher prices? Turner says no, it’s the nature of the law’s regulations.

“Insurers can’t help the demands on the benefits they will have to cover—it will absolutely be more expensive,” she says. “It’s like going to buy a car with every accessory in the books—heated seats, fancy wheels, satellite radio, and saying you can’t charge more for it.”

What Insurers are Deciding

Robert Zirkenbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), says each individual company will have to make their own decisions about which states to participate in as exchange bids come in.

“It will be based on a variety of reasons, but plans are offering coverage on the exchange, some will be outside the exchange—there will be options for consumers,” Zirkenbach says. “It will depend on the state and regulatory environment.”

He says the AHIP wants competition among insurers to keep consumer prices in check.  “Choice and competition is a good thing—when states have been setting up their exchanges, we are trying to encourage this,” he says.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners says insurers who are leaving these markets are likely doing so because they have core businesses in other segments, including the large group market.

“The carriers we have seen exiting the individual market are not major players in that market segment, and therefore we don’t anticipate a major disruption of coverage for a large portion of the market,” a spokesperson said in an email statement. “Each insurance company is making decisions regarding its participation in exchanges based upon a number of factors.  Some are opting to participate in the exchanges, while others are not; however, nearly all of the requirements that apply to policies sold on the exchange also apply to policies sold outside the exchange, so insurers will not be avoiding a lot of requirements by opting out of the exchanges.”