I was talking recently with some colleagues here at Spear, including fellow Spear Digest contributor, Dr. Gary DeWood, when the subject of dental insurance came up. Gary was quick to interject, saying, “Remember, dental insurance doesn’t exist.”
Those of you who have taken workshops with Gary have probably heard his reasoning behind this profoundly simple statement. If you haven’t, you may be wondering what that means – after all, considering all the energy and resources the average practice devotes to working with patients’ dental plans, dental insurance sure feels like a reality to most dentists.
The point Gary is making is that dental insurance is quite simply not insurance, in the true sense of the word. It’s not like home insurance or auto insurance, where you pay a premium in exchange for blanket coverage in the event of losses or expenses. If dental insurance were really insurance, patients would submit their claims for all necessary work that needed to be done and be fully reimbursed (minus an agreed-upon deductible).
But that’s not how dental plans work. What dental plans offer are benefits – a limited allowance to go towards funding dental care costs, which is a different thing. These are indeed useful and valuable benefits to patients and it is perfectly understandable that dental practices would want to help patients manage and maximize their benefits. But it is also important that patients are not fooled by the term “insurance” to the point where they have false expectations.
Before you suggest that this is all just a matter of semantics, remember that the words we use to describe things matter – different words produce different effects on the mind. That’s why, as I wrote about recently, dentists should not use the word “coverage” when talking about dental plan benefits.
Similarly, we in the dental community, as Gary keeps reminding us, should stop thinking in terms of “insurance.” That’s a word that dental plan providers use. It’s a mindset trap, one we should not fall into. Great dentistry comes at a cost. If that cost can be offset by a patient's benefit plan, great. But we can’t allow ourselves – or patients – to let these allowances govern treatment decisions. Because that’s what they are: allowances, benefits, economic supplements. It is not insurance. Because dental insurance does not exist.
(Check out this comprehensive online course by Imtiaz to find out more on how to talk to patients about insurance.)