You should know how your plan is designed, since this can affect significantly the plan's coverage and your out-of-pocket expense.
Some employers now offer more than one dental plan to their employees. In fact, the right to choose between two plans could be the law in your state. To understand and make decisions about your dental benefits, it is important to remember that plans are often very different. To make the best decision for you and your family, you should understand exactly how the different kinds of dental benefit plans work and how they derive their cost savings.
There are many ways to design a dental benefits plan. Although the individual features of plans may differ somewhat, the most common designs can be grouped into the following categories:
Direct Reimbursement programs reimburse patients a percentage of the dollar amount spent on dental care, regardless of treatment category. This method typically does not exclude coverage based on the type of treatment needed and allows the patients to go to the dentist of their choice.
"Usual, Customary and Reasonable" (UCR) programs usually allow patients to go to the dentist of their choice. These plans pay a set percentage of the dentist's fee or the plan administrator's "reasonable" or "customary" fee limit—whichever is less. These limits are the result of a contract between the plan purchaser and the third-party payer. Although these limits are called "customary," they may or may not accurately reflect the fees that area dentists charge. There is wide fluctuation and lack of government regulation on how a plan determines the "customary" fee level.
Table or Schedule of Allowance programs determine a list of covered services with an assigned dollar amount. That dollar amount represents just how much the plan will pay for those services that are covered. Most often, it does not represent the dentist's full charge for those services. The patient pays the difference.
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) programs are plans under which contracting dentists agree to discount their fees as a financial incentive for patients to select their practices. If the patient's dentist of choice does not participate in the plan, the patient will have a reduction or complete loss of benefits.
Capitation programs pay contracted dentists a fixed amount (usually on a monthly basis) per enrolled family or patient. In return, the dentists agree to provide specific types of treatment to the patients at no charge (for some treatments there may be a patient co-payment). The capitation premium that is paid may differ greatly from the amount the plan provides for the patient's actual dental care.