Like health care, dental care matters, too. While about 14 percent of Californians lack health insurance, 39 percent lack dental coverage, according to a 2009 brief from the California HealthCare Foundation.
Even if you have dental insurance, it often has coverage limits and varying levels of out-of-pocket spending requirements that differ from health insurance, as a recent Los Angeles Times report noted:
First, it's specifically designed to encourage preventive treatment. That's why most dental plans pay 100 percent for preventive services, such as cleanings, X-rays and checkups. Basic restorative services such as fillings and periodontal cleanings are generally covered at 80 percent, and you'll commonly get just 50 percent reimbursement for procedures such as implants and crowns.
In addition, they commonly come with low annual maximums that place a cap on what the plan pays toward care — the typical range is $1,000 to $1,500.
Even with coverage, the high cost of dental procedures prevents many people from seeking care. In a recent study of Los Angeles residents conducted by Empirica Research, 51 percent with dental insurance say they've delayed care because of cost. That number jumps to 68 percent among those without coverage.
Now, a new website, Brighter.com, has launched a free (to consumers) service to help connect people with dentists — at a discount. "The mission was to provide quality, affordable care to everyone," said Jake Winebaum, Brighter's CEO. "Brighter is the first marketplace where dentists are competing for patients based on quality, price and convenience."
Brighter has recruited a network of some 600 dentists. The individual dentists set their own prices for procedures, and all pricing is transparent on the website. Consumers can search for a dentist any way they like — by geography or by price — and book an appointment online. Patients must pay in full at the time of service.
Kate Quirk of Agoura Hills says she and her husband decided to opt out of the dental insurance offered by his employer. She says since they're young and healthy, they decided to pay out-of-pocket for preventive care. She found the website "straightforward, easy to use" and that the discounts offered are "pretty steep, almost unreal."