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Bob Gunia, Senior Vice President at Physicians Mutual, returns to Home & Family to talk about why it’s just as important to plan for dental care as it is for health care expenses in retirement — or at any age — and what we need to know to make confident decisions.
Take control of your dental health in retirement. People have always recognized the need to plan for health care expenses in retirement. But until recently, planning for dental care — and the high costs that come with it — wasn’t even part of the planning conversation. But that’s changing. Today, more people are taking control and planning ahead for dental expenses — and making dental insurance part of their retirement plan.
The increased demand for dental insurance as part of a retirement plan is greatly due to the fact that we’re living longer. And unlike it was 50 years ago, when nearly half of older Americans lost their natural teeth, advances in preventive care and treatments have allowed us to keep our teeth longer. Because of the connection between our dental and overall health, good dental care remains important throughout our lives.
How will you plan to pay unexpected dental bills? Even though more people are planning ahead for dental care, a large coverage gap still exists for all ages. For instance, 90 percent of Americans lose their dental insurance when they retire, and Medicare doesn’t cover dental care.
And because a growing number of employers — currently more than 69 percent — no longer include dental insurance as a group benefit, even people in the workforce are facing coverage gaps. So, just as they plan for unexpected medical bills, people also need to consider how they’ll pay for unexpected dental bills.
Planning ahead can be particularly important, especially if you’re on a fixed retirement income. With the average Social Security benefit at about $1,400 a month, paying out-of-pocket for a root canal costing $900 or more, for example, can be difficult for many people. In fact, a recent study indicated nearly 6 in 10 Americans wouldn’t have enough money in savings to cover $500 in unplanned expenses.
Plan ahead even if your teeth are healthy today. Even if your teeth are in good shape now, it’s hard to predict what your future dental care needs will be. Many people have old fillings and crowns. These things can fail over time. Repairs can be expensive, and the need for them generally can’t be ignored.
Affordable coverage can help pay dental bills. Many people put off buying dental insurance because they don’t necessarily see the value in this coverage. They also might think they can’t afford it, or that they can “make do” without it. But as more people discover the value of dental insurance — how it can help pay for the dental care you need — and just how affordable it is, the movement to plan for dental expenses in retirement will likely continue.
Know what to look for when buying dental insurance. If you’re looking for dental insurance, it’s important to understand what you’re buying.
First, make sure the dental insurance policy you choose covers the services you’re most likely to need. When Americans age 60 and older were asked in a recent survey about the dental services they get most often, preventive care was at the top of the list, followed by fillings, crowns and root canals.
Second, understand that most dental insurance policies have waiting periods for things like crowns and root canals. These waiting periods help keep your premium costs affordable. However, some policies offer immediate coverage for preventive care, which means you can get a dental checkup as soon as your insurance policy is in place.
Third, be aware that many dental insurance policies have annual maximums, which put a cap on how much your insurance will pay in a year’s time. Be sure to look for dental coverage that does not have an annual maximum.
Finally, if being able to choose your own dentist is important to you, be sure to look for dental insurance with a large provider network. In most cases, you’ll save money by seeing a dentist within the plan’s network.
“Dentistry Advocates Aim To Fill Medicare Gaps,” by Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News, khn.org, March 6, 2017
“Medicare & You,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 2017
“Older Americans Not Receiving the Oral Health Care They Need,” by Melissa Hoebbel, Oral Health America, September 3, 2013
“Fact Sheet,” Social Security Administration, ssa.gov, 2017
“Why Some Millennials Aren’t Smiling: Bad Teeth Hinder 28% In Job Search,” by Diana Hembree, forbes.com, March 28, 2017
“6 in 10 Americans don’t have $500 in savings,” by Kathryn Vasel, money.cnn.com, January 12, 2017
Dental Panel Survey conducted by Qualtrics for Physicians Mutual, 2016