A rash of health care options are available after graduation

The Kansas City StarJuly 13, 2014 

Parents hate to get these letters — a notice from an insurer that their college-age child no longer is eligible for dental and vision coverage.

While the Affordable Care Act allows parents to keep adult children enrolled in employer-provided family health insurance plans until they turn 26, there are no such guarantees for dental or vision insurance.

These situations are growing more common as companies drop these benefits altogether to help keep their health insurance costs in check. In another twist, some companies drop dependents from their plans when they graduate from college.

Problems also arise if your child has received dental and vision benefits through a federal insurance program known as COBRA, which provides protection up to 36 months. My college student son is in that situation — he was bumped off my employer plan three years ago; now he'll lose dental and vision insurance through COBRA at the end of July.

So prepare to go shopping to protect your 20-something's perfect teeth and eagle-eye vision.

The good news: There are plenty of affordable coverage options, and the insurance may be purchased at any time without the need to wait months for enrollment season.

Insurance coverage: If your child is in college, check the university-sponsored health insurance plans first. Some, but not all, schools provide more than just medical benefits, which could fill your coverage gap.

There are plenty of other ways to get insured. The most common option is to buy separate dental and vision policies from an insurance company. Websites such as EHealthInsurance.com compare prices and policy details from dozens of plans.

If you have a preferred dentist or eye doctor, check what plans that practice accepts before enrolling. And keep in mind that you still may choose a specialist who is not part of a network.

As for benefits, look for an insurer that covers regular check-ups and cleanings twice a year. Vision insurance plans typically cover one regular eye exam a year, along with contacts, frames and lenses up to a specific dollar amount.

Some health insurers that sell direct individual medical policies also offer dental and vision coverage as a rider, said Carrie McLean, director of customer care at EHealthInsurance.

Discount plans: Dental and vision discount plans offered by companies such as Optum HealthAllies Inc. typically advertise savings of up to 50 percent on certain procedures. But these are not insurance policies.

Before signing up, the Federal Trade Commission suggests checking on whether your dentist or eye care specialist accepts those discounts. And see how many providers within a 10-mile radius of your home accept the discounts. Your options might be limited.

Going it alone: There is another choice — skip the insurance system altogether and pay the costs out of your own pocket. If you can handle the risks of the unexpected, this strategy might be the way to go, especially if your child has strong eyesight and a good oral health history and needs only two teeth cleanings a year.

Check with your family dentist and eye doctor about charges for basic procedures. My son's dentist, for example, quoted a total out-of-pocket cost of about $300 a year for two exams, two cleanings and one set of X-rays.

After running the numbers, if you do choose to sign up for insurance, don't expect the new plan to cover a root canal or Lasik surgery the next day, said McLean. In some cases, pre-authorization from the insurer is needed.

One other caveat: Startup dates for coverage vary. Generally, PPOs kick in on the first and 15th of the month, said McLean, but HMOs lock in the first day of the month only.

Steve Rosen is assistant business editor at The Kansas City Star. Reach him at (816) 234-4879 or srosenkcstar.com.

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