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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.