What are your retired military dental coverage options? While an active duty service member, you’ve been covered under the Active Duty Dental Program. And family members of active duty service members have one DoD choice: the Tricare Dental Program. But when the service member retires, both the retiree and the family have a whole world of dental coverage options.
While having options is good, it can be overwhelming. How do you choose? Do you want to go with a program through the Benefeds/FEDVIP program? Do you have an employer option? Would a commercial policy be a better choice for your situation? Or do you even need dental coverage at all?
These are all important questions to decide if you want to pay for dental insurance, and which plan is right for you.
What Are Your Options?
As a military retiree or family member, you may have many different choices for your dental insurance. What’s right for you will depend on your specific situation, but you can’t be sure you have the right plan without knowing what options are avialable to you.
Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program
As a military retiree or retired military family member, you have the option to enroll in a dental plan through the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP.) There are 12 dental plan choices from well-known commercial carriers.
Prices are generally slightly more competitive than if you purchased the same coverage commercially, but the plans are not subsidized by the federal government, so they are not inexpensive. FEDVIP plan premiums are typically paid directly from the military retiree’s paycheck.
Dental Plans Offered Through Associations
Many military-related or federal government-related organizations offer dental plans to their members. Whether the costs and benefits of these plans is better or worse than what is offered through FEDVIP is going to depend on your needs.
Direct-to-Consumer Dental Plans
You can also find a commercial dental plan that is sold directly to consumers. These are typically the most expensive options, but they might be right for your specific situation. There are some plans that have restrictive eligibility, such as plans offered only to federal employees, that may offer coverage to military or retirees.
Employer-sponsored Dental Coverage
If you or your spouse has access to dental coverage through employment, definitely investigate. Employer-sponsored dental coverage may be less expensive than other options if the employer is paying a portion of the cost. Premiums are typically paid via payroll deduction.
Do You Care What Dentist You Use?
If you have a dentist and you want to stay with them, then the first thing to do is ask your dentist which plans they accept. Give them a call, or print out the options and stop by the office. They should be glad to help you!
You can also go to the website of the plan you are considering, and check their “find a dentist” database. Because I’m paranoid, I like to verify the dentist’s participation in both directions, both through the dentist and through the insurance carrier.
Are Waiting Periods an Issue?
Some plans may have a waiting period for certain services, particularly expensive services like orthodontics. If you anticipate needing big work soon, be sure to pick a plan that doesn’t have a waiting period.
Do You Have A Young Adult?
Because of the way the program is set up, kids who have aged off “regular” Tricare can’t be covered under the FEDVIP dental plans, even if they are enrolled in Tricare Young Adult. So, if you have a child in that bracket who doesn’t have access to dental insurance elsewhere, you need to consider whether a another choice would be better for your family, even if it is more expensive.
What’s Your Capacity For Unplanned Expenses?
Everyone budgets differently, and everyone has a different comfort level with surprise expenses. Would you rather pay more in premiums each month, but have lower costs expenses when you need care? Or are you willing to pay more when you need care in order to save on premiums each month? If you choose a less-expensive, lower-coverage plan, will a dental emergency also be a financial emergency, or do you have the money set aside for these types of expenses?
Skipping Dental Insurance
At the far end of the spectrum, my friend Doug self-insures, using the money he would use on premiums to pay for his dental care. If you have lower dental care needs, this can be a financially smart option. This leads us into the next question:
What Are Your Dental Needs? How’s Your Oral Health?
Dental needs vary a lot from person to person. Some folks never have a cavity and require almost no care. I have a certain tooth that chips a lot due to the structure of my bite, and it requires dental care about once a year. Anyone with kids will probably want some sort of coverage, and most of us parents will want orthodontic coverage. Younger retirees with great dental hygiene may not need insurance at all, older folks with problematic mouths may need the most comprehensive coverage available.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed!
While the process of choosing a dental plan is new-ish for retired military families, it’s not a bad thing. There is power in choice! I am confident that you can sort through your options and find a plan that meets your dental care needs and your budget!