Adulting Dental Insurance and Qualified Life Events

[Part of my adulting series where I share stories and things I learned while becoming an adult.]

tl;dr If you were covered under insurance and find yourself without it, learn about Qualifying Life Events. If I knew this then I would have saved a $1,000.

A few years ago, I had just finished frying a piece of steak. I seasoned it with McCormick Montreal seasoning and got a nice sear on it. After, I let it rest, plated it, and then brought it to my kitchen island where I ate dinner.

I began eating my dinner, cutting steak and eating it, when I heard a loud crunch sound. I was shocked at first. “Did I bite my teeth?” No. “What was that?”

I didn’t feel anything else, so I resumed eating.

After dinner, I went to the bathroom to look in the mirror. I realized one of my bottom left molars were chipped.

I wasn’t a dentist or a dental professional, so I didn’t know what to do. There was a noticeable section of the tooth missing. Immediately my mind went racing, what’s going to happen? “Is the tooth going to get infected?” “Am I going to need to have this tooth extracted?” I thought to myself. I had no idea.

So I did what all normal people did — Googled it. The only practical advice I found was to talk to a dentist because unlike WebMD, nothing gave me the tools to assess what happened. And no, it was not cancer. 1

So next I looked for a dentist and made an appointment. I was a regular at another dentist’s office, but they didn’t have a way to make appointments online, so I found one that did.

Dental Insurance is thought about differently in Texas than in California. There, it was common to be without dental insurance. People still went to dentists, but they would negotiate on services and pay out of pocket. Because of this, many dentists offered free consultations.

So that’s what I did because I didn’t have dental insurance at the time. I was employed, working full-time at a company that offered great benefits packages, but I declined dental insurance. I had health insurance, though.

So the obvious question is, why did I decline dental insurance?

Under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obama Care), dependents under the age of 26 can be insured under their parent’s plan — which I was at the time. So when it came time for open enrollment at my job, I made the decision to decline dental insurance. It was unnecessary, otherwise, I would have spent money having coverage under two dental insurance plans. I don’t like the dentist’s office enough to go twice as often for cleanings. So I declined dental insurance through my work and saved an extra $20 a month.

What I did not consider was a scenario where my mother would get laid off, and me being without dental insurance. And that’s what happened.

At the time, I did not know about Qualifying Life Events. Qualifying Life Events are a change in insurance coverage that makes one eligible for a special enrollment period. For me, this meant that I could enroll and get coverage outside of the normal enrollment period. 2

Back at the dental consultation, I was told that it wasn’t too severe, it didn’t require immediate attention, but I was advised to get a crown to ensure that more of the tooth wouldn’t chip off. Without insurance, it was going to be pretty expensive, estimated to be over a thousand dollars. With insurance, it would have been a fraction of that.

I like my teeth and, more importantly, having them all. I did not want to lose a tooth and even the thought of losing it was a no-no for me. So I scheduled an appointment with my regular dentist and negotiated the operation to $1,000, which I paid out of pocket. I had no other choice. Well, I could have tested my luck and waited for my open enrollment to happen again or for my mother to become insured again, but in my mind, that wasn’t an option.

Today, I still have my tooth, and I no longer use Montreal Seasoning on my steaks. I’m still bitter I spent so much out of pocket. If I had known about Qualifying Life Events I could have been covered under insurance. I just tell myself that it is better to have this experience earlier in life than later. Because that’s what adulting is all about — learning about all of these other things.

  1. WebMD is notorious for being a hypochondriac’s nightmare. It’s also a meme where any symptom you have can be attributed to cancer. ↩︎

  2. ↩︎