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The High Cost of AARP Delta Dental

Well, I expected the AARP Delta Dental plan I enrolled in last December to cover little more than the occasional cleaning, which, when paid for out of pocket, is $93 at my dentist’s office. But what I didn’t expect was to have the plan effectively land me in a hole that would take two years to climb out of.

Here’s how this comes to be:

You pay $450 a year for dental coverage. Each year, this is supposed to give you three “free” cleanings—each of which costs you a $20 copay. After a full year’s waiting period, you’re eligible for a discount of about 50% on crowns and other expensive procedures. However, in addition to the waiting period and the copays, there’s a $100 deductible that has to be met before even a routine cleaning is covered.

I need a new crown to replace an ancient one that’s been broken for years. Delta will not cover a crown until you’ve been in  the plan for a full year.

So, to arrive at the point where you can replace a broken crown, you have to spend $450 for the first year’s premiums, then re-up for another year, to the tune of another $450, and pay $200 in deductibles. Then, the most that will be covered for the crown will be half the price. Think about that.

My dentist charges $1,150 for a new gold crown. His charge for a routine cleaning, which one would normally do twice (not three times) a year, is $93. Over the course of two years, then, a patient with decent dental health but who needs an old crown replaced would pay $1,522 for cleaning and a new crown. What would this cost if you purchased AARP’s Delta Dental coverage, compared to what it would cost if you were uninsured?

Interesting. You pay $233 more for the same services and products, and for the privilege of having to wait a full year to get your crown fixed. The cost to get the crown plus routine medical care, if you just decided to pay for it, actually would be $186 less (i.e., $1,336), because you wouldn’t have to wait a year to be eligible for the Delta’s 50% discount.

Clearly, you’d be ahead to simply put aside $450 a year in a fund dedicated to paying dental bills. Assuming, that is, that you have decent dental health—no gingivitis, cavities, or teeth about to fall out of your head. If even a single year passed without a major dental event, the amount that would accrue in savings ($714) over the two years you have to subscribe to be eligible for coverage on a crown would cover two-thirds of the crown’s cost—not the measly 50 percent (if you’re lucky) that Delta covers. At the start of year 2 (assuming you fund your savings with a lump sum), you would have $714. If the second year passed with no dental crises, then at the start of year 3 your dental savings fund would have a beginning balance of $978.

Hmmm….  Makes the $50 tab for that Braun electric toothbrush that really keeps your teeth clean look like quite a bargain, doesn’t it? It pays to take care of your teeth!

I just canceled the Delta Dental plan. Since I signed up for it in December, even though I’ve never used it, they’re gouging me for premiums through March.

If you’re retired, think twice about Delta Dental! And remember, just because a product has the AARP brand associated with it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice for you.

If you’re in debt…

Javanese piggy bank, 14th or 15th century AD
Javanese piggy bank, AD 1300–1400

…you’re not alone! AARP recently published the results of a poll in which respondents were asked what proportion of their monthly income their monthly debt obligation amounted to. Nineteen percent of adults under 50 said they owed more than their monthly income! That’s almost one in five Americans.

We old buzzards weren’t much better off: 14 percent of people 50 and older were in the same boat.

Among the younger set, 24 percent saw about three fourths of their monthly income go to debt service, and 25 percent spent about half their income on debt. An incredible 26 percent of us dinosaurs said we spent 75 percent of our pay on debt.

Twenty-nine percent of the young things—more than a quarter, almost a third!—said they owed less than half their monthly income; 38 percent of survivors of the Cretaceous put our debt load at less than half of monthly income.

And…apparently the surveyors didn’t think to ask if anyone owed nothing. Too unlikely, eh?

IMHO, the most surprising element of this probably not very scientific survey was that over 1/4 of post-50s owed around 75 percent of monthly pay. Say what??? How could you possibly hit 50 or 60 or (hevvin help us) 70 and have to fork over 3/4 of your income to some lender?

Well…OK, two words: Edmund Andrews.

And no, I dunno how old he is. But obviously, if they included mortgage debt in this question (and there’s no sign they didn’t), folks who bought houses in the last three years or so are surely strapped.

In other categories, it’s not so surprising that old duffers are doing better than the rangy young pups: if you bought a house ten or fifteen years ago, what was once a breathtaking mortgage payment now looks pretty good. And most people hit their financial stride around age 50: typically people reach the peak of their earning power between ages 50 and 65. So if you earn more than ever before and you have an old mortgage, your debt ratio is probably lower…especially if you’ve been figuring you’d better shovel out from under the debt before you retire.

How about you? What proportion of your monthly income would you estimate your monthly debt to be?

Image: Wikipedia, GNU free documentation license