Extras Medical Insurance and Going to the Dentist in Australia

ANZ MagTime for another reprinting of an article I wrote for Australia and New Zealand magazine, this appeared in their October 2017 issue. This is a reprint with a difference though, because it comes with ‘Extras’, if you’ll excuse the pun.

My magazine articles are restricted to 550 words or thereabouts, here there are no restrictions. So I’ve taken the opportunity to add more information about how extras medical insurance works. First, let’s go to the dentist.

The dentists

Dentist

It would be very unfair of me to compare dentists in Australia with dentists in the UK based on my limited personal experiences with dental practices in each country.

Today though, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

One thing you will hear mentioned quite often is that dentists in Australia are ridiculously expensive. That’s not so easy for me to judge, because virtually all the treatment I received in the UK was free on the NHS, so I have nothing to compare the fees with.

That said, back in 2005 when I was living in England, I was referred to a periodontist for treatment that wasn’t available on the NHS. It was just a deep clean, but it cost me £600 for the privilege; a painful experience for both me and my wallet.

Now of course, here in Australia, there is no NHS and I have to pay for my dentistry. Well, not quite, not directly anyway. I know I’ve spoken about private medical insurance before and I’ve mentioned that I have ‘extras cover’, which doesn’t cover me for any major hospital treatment.

What it does help pay for though are things like dentistry, prescription glasses, physiotherapy and if I need it, a hearing aid. I’ve not taken them up on that one yet, nor have I needed to visit a psychologist which is also covered, but give me time.

I’m working my way through the list of things my extras cover can help with. At $110 per month, it isn’t cheap, but it does cover my family too and I’m pretty sure we get back more than we put in.

Anyway, back to dentists.

How much does treatment really cost?

I can quote you the following figures with absolute confidence; I got them online from a consumer website here called ‘Choice’. They are the equivalent of the UK’s ‘Which?’ magazine.

According to Choice, the average cost of a check-up including an oral exam, a clean and some fluoride treatment is $231. Dentists can charge whatever they like though and in this example the cheapest check-up Choice found was $150 and the dearest $305.

So it pays to shop around.

A tooth extraction costs $185 and an anterior tooth filling $153, or $182 if it’s on two surfaces. Posterior tooth fillings are $10-$20 more. A full veneered crown will set you back a scary $1558. Again, these are averages; some dentists will charge more and some less.

But what are Australian dentists like?

I love my dentist, she’s fantastic! I’m hardly ever kept waiting. When I was delayed half an hour just the other day while she dealt with a child’s emergency, she popped her head out of the treatment room to say “We are running a little late Rob, really sorry about that, I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”

When I get in the chair, she always asks “How are Karen and Elizabeth?

Crikey, she knows my name, my family’s names and she apologises for running late! She even praises my teeth as she checks them; “Looking good.

In England the greeting from my dentists would often be so different. “Sit. Say aah. My word, look at the state of these. Don’t you floss?

Well, I did say this wasn’t going to be fair.

Additional info: ‘Extras’ Medical Insurance

Here’s that extra information I mentioned earlier.

I’ve just rechecked my family’s ‘Extras’ insurance and we are now paying $118.95 per month for the plan. And what do we get for that?

It’s complicated. It’s an insurance policy, it’s got clauses, it’s got subclauses, it’s got yearly limits and it’s got incremental annual increases. I couldn’t possibly tell you how it really works, but I can tell you what I know from experience.

Me and Mrs Bob go to the dentist twice a year each, and Elizabeth, our daughter, once a year. We all have a standard dental examination for each visit, fluoride treatment, and me and Mrs Bob always get a good scale and clean.

According to Choice above, the average cost for that is $231, but let’s assume our dentist is one of the cheapest at $150 and let’s assume Elizabeth’s one visit costs $100. After handing over our private insurance card though, we pay nothing, so our saving is?

$700

Me and Mrs Bob both wear spectacles, we each have reading and distance glasses. We tend to change them every year, and that should cost us $250 each. After handing over our private insurance card though, we pay nothing, so our saving is?

$500

With our annual payments at $1440, with just these two items we have almost got our money back. Yet we can, and sometimes do, claim for other stuff like additional dentistry or physiotherapy.

For example, that crown mentioned above that cost $1558, if either of us needed one, we could get up to $800 back because we have been with them since 2009. Our limit has gone up from (originally) $400 by $50 per annum until we have reached the now maximum benefit of $800.

All in, there are $2000 worth of extra dental work potentially available from periodontics, orthodontics and major restorative fittings.

With physiotherapy, I probably hit my maximum ($700) amount for that after I was in hospital a few years back, I think I went to about 24 sessions. Physiotherapy can also include group Pilates sessions, perfect for Mrs Bob.

We haven’t yet needed to take advantage of the psychology, podiatry and eye therapy consultations potentially available, or assistance with breathing appliances, blood glucose monitors or hearing aids. If ever we do need such things though, this insurance will help.

Is extras insurance worth it?

There was a whole spate of articles online and in the press a year or so ago asking that same question, with many concluding it wasn’t. For us though, we think it is. I’m going to quote Choice again, who say that it can be good value for families, because there is no extra cost for children, and for people aged 55 to 74.

Well, we are a family and whilst my daughter is still very much on the left-hand side of the following chart, us parents are very much further to the right…

life cycle

We are the glasses wearing, gum receding, physio seeking, aching generation, so we will definitely be keeping up with the premiums.

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