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Dental Plan Enrollees Don't Necessarily Reap Benefits

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 12, 1997 – Defense health officials are concerned that many service families signed up for family dental care aren't actively participating in the program.

"Eighty-six percent of active duty service members have enrolled in the plan," said Air Force Dr. (Col.) Marvin Bennett. "Unfortunately, only approximately 47 percent of those enrolled use the benefit."

The DoD consultant for dentistry said those who pay the monthly premium but don't follow up with an active dental care program miss out on one of the best dental plans available. "The family dental care program is extremely beneficial, comprehensive and affordable," Bennett said.

The plan, administered by United Concordia Colleges, Inc., costs $7.19 a month for one and $17.95 a month for two or more. It covers spouses and children of active duty service members. DoD provides free health care to members. In addition to paying monthly premiums -- automatically deducted from the service member's gross pay -- enrollees receive two examinations, two cleanings, fluoride treatment and X-rays free of charge. For other services, they're charged co-payments that range from 20 percent to 50 percent of total costs. The plan covers costs up to $1,000 a year for routine dental care and $1,200 lifetime for orthodontic care. The contract does allow United Concordia to raise the basic premium 5-6 percent annually, Bennett said.

The contract also stipulates network providers be certified by the American Dental Association, be within 35 miles of patients' homes and be able to see and treat patients within 21 days of their request.

United Concordia manages a preferred provider network of 47,000 dentists nationwide, Bennett said. In addition, Congress is considering allowing DoD to expand the benefit to families based overseas, to include waiving co-payments, already a provision of DoD medical care overseas. Bennett said he hopes the overseas plan will be implemented Aug. 1.

There are likely several reasons people don't use the plan after signing up for it, Bennett said. "I think there's a natural fear of dentists," he said, admitting his own long history of dental treatment and reluctance to make "the next appointment." "Let's face it," he said, "it's not fun having someone work in your mouth and cause pain." Modern dental medicine has, however, removed much of the pain of having one's teeth worked on, Bennett said.

He said he also believes people forget they've signed up and forget to take an active role in their dental health.

"Information about the dental plan is briefed at every DoD installation's newcomers orientation," Bennett said, "so I know people are aware of the benefit. Plus, the 86 percent who've signed up reflect the level of participation in private sector dental plans. Of course, we'd like to see higher enrollment and much higher participation. Good dental health is important to overall health, appearance and overall quality of life.

"By paying a comparatively low price for routine, preventive dental care," Bennett said, "people are more comfortable, their teeth are more attractive, and they're less likely to have higher cost dental problems in the future. The DoD family dental care plan gives service families an extremely affordable, attractive program for good dental health."

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