By Lisa Zamosky
More than 150 million Americans have no dental coverage – that’s nearly three times the number of people without health insurance.
Dental care is more than just a nice-to-have benefit. A growing body of evidence suggests a connection between dental and overall health. According to the National Association of Dental Plans, people without dental insurance report higher incidences of illness, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
Not surprisingly, these folks visit the dentist less frequently, and many, the Association found, are among the 738,000 Americans annually that end up in emergency rooms for dental treatment.
Smaller employers tend to be less inclined to offer benefits such as dental and vision, even if health insurance coverage is made available to employees. The good news is that dental plans can be purchased on the private market for fairly reasonable monthly rates. Also available are dental discount plans – which are not insurance, but offer reduced rates on dental procedures (you can find discount plans in your area at DentalPlans.com).
If you’re buying insurance on your own, the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) offers consumers tips for ways of avoiding fraud when purchasing a dental plan.
Asking the Right Questions
Here is a list of eight items you should confirm about any dental plan attempting to sell you insurance before signing on the dotted line:
1. Make sure there’s a license: Any company selling you an insurance product must be licensed in the state in order to do so.
2. Check registration with the Secretary of State: According to NADP, all legitimate companies will have filed documents with the Secretary of State within the state where they operate. Check with the agency where you live to confirm that a company has filed.
3. A listing with the Better Business Bureau: The BBB provides a lot of information about consumer protections. While not all legitimate companies will be listed with BBB, many are. Check www.bbb.org to find the plan you’re thinking about buying.
4. Ask for an address: If the sales person you’re speaking with can’t offer a physical address of the company’s national office or seems at all hesitant to offer one up, walk away. Do the same if he or she only offers a P.O. Box office address.
5. Ask for plan information by mail: According to NADP, scam operations attempt to collect fees from you before sending any information about the details of your benefits and the provider network associated with the dental plan they’re attempting to sell. Any legitimate plan will be willing to send you materials without collecting a dime from you.
6. Make sure there’s a web presence: Anyone can throw a website online these days, but a reputable plan will have an extensive site describing what they offer. Particularly important is to check that there’s a list of participating dentists online. You should call a few to make sure they’re really contracted with the company to provide services. Bogus outfits will sometimes simply read you the name of dentists in your zip code over the phone when asked about their network, information anyone can find with a quick online search.
7. Test time: If a request to take some time to consider whether the plan being sold is right for you is met with a high-pressure sales pitch, move on. NADP reports that frauds often tell consumers that only a few spots are left in the plan or that the offer is limited. If it’s real dental insurance they’re selling, neither of these claims is true.
8. Look for affiliations: Not all dental benefits companies belong to NADP, but it is the only national dental benefits industry organization, and it represents about 65% of the industry. Participation is a good sign. A bogus operation may claim other affiliations or endorsements, some of which may sound official but simply don’t exist. A simple Google search should tell you what you need to know.
Your turn: Have you ever been sold a bill of goods when buying dental insurance? Sound off in the comments section below.