When you get a toothache or notice that your gums are starting to bleed whenever you brush your teeth, what do you do? If you're among the millions of Americans without dental insurance, you might just hope that the pain goes away on its own to avoid what might be a pricey visit to the dentist.
Although the cost of dental treatment can be high, affordable dental insurance for low-income households helps reduce the expense. The National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) reports that approximately 74 million Americans go without dental coverage, but that doesn't have to be the case. Public insurance programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide coverage for nearly 83.9 million people in the U.S., according to the NADP. Getting dental insurance for yourself and the members of your family can mean the difference between getting the preventative dental care you need and having serious oral health problems down the line.
How to Find Affordable Dental Insurance
The best place to start your search for an affordable dental insurance policy is on HealthCare.gov, which is a federal site managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that helps people enroll in affordable insurance plans. Note that in most cases, dental coverage will be included in healthcare plans on the HealthCare.gov marketplace. You can't buy a stand-alone dental insurance plan without also getting health coverage at the same time.
On HealthCare.gov, you'll need to provide information about your household income, your household size and the people who live with you to get an idea of what plans are available. Since most dental plans are included as part of a health insurance policy, you'll likely need to choose a health insurance plan first. You can do so during open enrollment, which runs yearly from November to December. HealthCare.gov also outlines that certain life events, such as getting married, having a child or losing your health insurance because of divorce or the loss of a job, may qualify you for a special enrollment period.
See If You Qualify for Medicaid or CHIP
Depending on your income level, you might be eligible for Medicaid, or you might be able to enroll your child in CHIP. Both are free or very low-cost insurance options separate from the HealthCare.gov marketplace. Dental benefits are included for children with Medicaid or CHIP, but not all states offer Medicaid dental benefits for adults, according to Medicaid.gov.
On Medicaid.gov, you can find the income limits for Medicaid and CHIP coverage, which vary based on the state you live in. Alternatively, when you enter your information at HealthCare.gov, the system will let you know if you are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP based on the income you report.
Understand Your Dental Insurance Options
Once you get to the stage where you are actually reviewing insurance plans, you'll likely see two different insurance options. The first option, as the American Dental Association notes, is a "high option" plan. With this plan, you pay more for the dental insurance premium each month but less out of pocket when you get care. With a "low option" plan, you pay a lower monthly premium but have a higher deductible and higher co-payments. The HealthCare.gov marketplace breaks these down further into four categories — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — each with different monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
When you're reviewing options, be sure to calculate your monthly budget along with how much dental work you anticipate needing. If you expect that you'll need many services throughout the year, it might make more sense for your budget to get a plan with a higher monthly premium and lower out-of-pocket costs. But if you expect that you'll only need dental exams and preventative care, a plan with a lower monthly premium might be a better bet for your budget.
Rest assured that there are plenty of options for affordable dental insurance for low-income households that can help you and your family maintain healthy smiles. Knowing you're covered for your preventative dental visits or in the event of an unexpected issue may make it worthwhile to find room in your budget for dental insurance.