I broke a tooth yesterday. This is the third time I have broken this same tooth. I am at the point where it is nearly all filling and very little tooth left. So, I was off for a quick trip to my dentist to get the rough edge knocked off until he can get around to fixing it on February 7.
Since I retired I no longer have dental insurance. The cost to fix this tooth is $500. I know that from the first time I broke it. Knowing I do not have insurance, however, the dentist discounted the repair down to $250. The second time it broke he repaired it for free and he has said he will fix it for free again this time. I have known my dentist for a long time. He is a good guy. It's a good thing. I can't afford an extra $250 right now.
While I was sitting in his chair yesterday he advised that I should get another filling redone. I had chipped it a while ago and he had just ground off the rough edge when I had. Now he thinks it should be replaced.
No insurance. I just looked at him.
He did a rough calculation and told me that replacing that one would be about $300 but he would discount it down to $155.
My parents are retired also so they have no dental insurance either. Two years ago my mother required some extensive work. She went to the dentist my sister works for. After doing up the work order for her he announced it would cost just over $7,000 but because she didn't have insurance and because my sister worked for him, he would see the work done for $3200.
In both cases, roughly a 50% discount of dental services because neither of us have dental insurance. I also know from my sister that both dentists routinely give discounts to people who do not have insurance. A good deal, you think?
I think not.
I can assure you that neither of these dentists are going broke. I know both of them well and they both are swimming in more money than anyone I know. You can also bet your ass that even giving a 50% discount that neither of them are losing any money.
So, while I 'get' by being offered a discount, I also lose as does every other person in this province. This also means that employers who pay the cost of dental insurance for their employees also lose on the huge premiums they are forced to pay. In short, dental insurance is not anyone's friend except the dentists who are able to inflate the cost of services far in excess of their worth and make a killing by doing so. Dentists in this province routinely make more than twice what the average family doctor makes and one way or another, every single person in this province winds up paying for this. Most dental insurance coverage only pays for 80% of treatment. The patient must pay the other 20% and the higher the cost a service is, the more money that 20% takes out of the consumer's pocket.
Several years ago our then left leaning New Democratic Party government introduced universal dental coverage that nearly bankrupted the province. The cost of dental work immediately took a huge increase. The program was then scaled back to include only children under 12 and even that proved too expensive and the entire program was eventually scrapped when a new government was elected.
That was when private dental insurance stepped in and became big business here. The cost of dental procedures went even higher and dentists became rich. You can rest assured that the insurance providers didn't lose money either. Everyone made money except for the consumer and their employers.
The price of dental work has become so terribly expensive here that many people simply cannot afford it. Dental insurance has legalized what used to be a crime. While it sounds nice, and I often hear our American cousins to the south applaud it, believe me, Dental Insurance is not a friend.
There is only one solution to this problem. Dentistry needs to somehow be brought into the National Health Act and be provided free in the same way as medical coverage is. The government needs to step in and regulate the price of dental work as it does in health. Costs need to be reduced. Controls need to be put in place. Until then the insurance companies will continue to be part of the problem and dentists will continue to become richer on a system that is completely broken. Just as broken as my tooth.
(Originally posted to Multiply on January 23, 2008)