Everything freelancers need to know about dental insurance

Nov 14, 2014

UPDATED: November 7, 2017

So you’re a freelancer and you need to get dental insurance. Now what?

Here’s a comprehensive look at how to find the dental insurance plan that’s best for you -- from the people who know freelancers best. Freelancers Union is the nation’s largest organization representing the independent workforce, and we’ve been advocating for freelance workers for over 20 years.

Browse affordable dental plans in your area now!

I bought health insurance… so don’t I already have dental insurance?

Not necessarily! Dental is usually separate from health insurance. Some plans include dental coverage for dependent children, but most health plans do not provide general coverage for adults. Double-check your health insurance plan to see if you’re covered for dental as well. And if you’re not…

Ok, I don’t actually have dental insurance. Where do I get it?

You have three options:

a. Dental Insurance through Freelancers Union.

b. If you buy health insurance on the State or Federal Exchange, you can also buy dental insurance from the marketplace as well. You can’t buy dental by itself, though.

c. Dental insurance plans through a private insurance company.

Wait, do I even need dental insurance?

Preventive services like tooth cleaning and check-ups are relatively affordable, but more serious work like crowns and other dental repairs can be staggeringly expensive. Having dental insurance will protect you from having to pay for expensive procedures entirely out of pocket.

When can I enroll?

Unlike with health insurance, you can buy dental insurance whenever you’d like -- it’ll start the next month.

What do I need to know about dental insurance?

Here are some terms that you should be familiar with:

Premium – The amount you pay each month in order to purchase insurance. This is, roughly, the “cost” of your plan.

Deductible – The amount you are responsible for paying towards dental expenses before your insurance coverage “kicks in” to pay the rest. Unlike health insurance plans, not all dental plans have deductibles.

Copay – The fixed dollar amount you’re required to pay for a procedure, like a tooth cleaning.

Coinsurance – The percentage of the cost you’re required to pay towards a procedure -- your insurance covers the rest.

Annual maximum benefit – Most dental insurance plans will only pay up to a certain amount, per member per year. (E.g. you might have $1000 of coverage for a year; same for your spouse, children, etc.) Once you hit the annual maximum benefit, you’re responsible for 100% of your dental expenses.

Waiting period – Many dental plans require you to be a member for anywhere from 6 to 18 months before they’ll pay for major procedures.

And here are the different kinds of plans you can purchase:

Managed-care or DHMO – DHMO plans draw on a network of dental providers. These plans usually don’t have deductibles, but may offer less robust coverage and are generally more affordable. Freelancers Union offers a DHMO plan from Guardian, called MDG Dental.

PPO – A PPO plan allows you to visit dentists both in and out of your insurance company’s network. PPO plans usually have deductibles, but they also tend to have more robust coverage for dental services once the deductible is met. Keep in mind, however, that you may be reimbursed for only part of the total cost out-of-network dental work, so try to stay in network for the best value.

Indemnity – A third option, indemnity plans offer more flexibility than other dental plans. With an indemnity plan, you can visit any licensed dentist for whatever services you like. However, you must pay the cost upfront and get reimbursed by the insurance company after you submit your claim.

How do I pick a plan that’s right for me?

Picking the right plan for you will depend on your needs, or your family’s needs. Some good questions to keep in mind when considering plans are:

  • How much does it cost on a monthly basis?
  • Is there a deductible? If so, how much is it?
  • Does the network coverage include dentists in your area that you want to see?
  • Is there a waiting period?

Certain procedures require a waiting period, so the insurance company won’t cover it until you’ve been a policyholder for a specific number of months. If you know you urgently need a crown, for example, there’s generally a waiting period on that procedure, and you’ll want to look for a dental insurance plan with a short waiting period.

However, if you don’t need anything done immediately, plans with long waiting periods generally have lower premiums. This is because insurance companies don’t want you to pick up coverage just when you need it, and then drop them.

What about a discount card?

Discount cards aren’t a form of dental insurance-- you won’t be reimbursed anything if you have a discount card. A card gets you discounts with participating dental care providers, who you pay upfront. There’s no deductible and no coinsurance; just a discount on the out-of-pocket cost. You’ll also pay a monthly fee to have the discount card. You can use a discount card with an indemnity plan, but not with a managed care plan. Additionally, there are no waiting periods with a discount card, and no annual maximum benefit.

What else do I need to know about dental insurance?

You won’t get fined if you don’t have dental insurance, but it is important. Check out the plans Freelancers Union offers, and go forth and get covered!