Every year during Open Season for health care, I get a heap of emails and junk snail mail solicitations from health care insurers trying to get me to choose their companies, including selecting separate plans for vision or dental coverage. Over the past several years, I have noticed an increase in these solicitations. Their zealousness is almost as fierce as the aggressive nature of politicians around election time. There is even a health fair at work at which multiple insurers come to showcase their companies and what they have to offer. Friends and colleagues at other federal, state, and private-sector agencies/organizations tell me they have such a health fair too. The insurers usually come with a variety of free tokens like totes, magnets, stress balls, or other trinkets of intrinsic value trying to entice employees to stop at their booths. I’ll be honest. I only attend this health fair to see what freebies might interest me. I don’t plan to change my health plan, and I have not yet signed up for a separate plan for either vision or dental.
First, let me state for the record how much of a racket I think insurance is. No, I’m not saying it’s a scam; insurance can provide a great benefit to millions of people who are able to receive medical services they might otherwise not be able to afford; however, it’s an industry in which the key players have us all by the throat, and we’re basically stuck. I could talk all day about that issue alone, but I’ll save that for another occasion. Second, the cost of insurance is painstakingly high. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had minimal need for it. I have not had any major, catastrophic incidents. That’s a good thing. Some people I know have endured a plethora of health maladies, injuries, or other circumstances requiring multiple uses of their health benefits.
Then there are those hypochondriacs who seek medical attention for perceived problems that just don’t exist — or doctors or patients who bill insurers for things fraudulently. Okay, maybe fraudulently might be too harsh. Perhaps mistakenly is better, though there are many who do commit fraud. Just couple of days ago, 24 defendants were indicted in a scheme involving $1 billion in fraudulent claims for billing for unnecessary medical equipment—mainly back, shoulder, wrist, and knee braces. But from the insurance company’s point of view, whether a claim is legitimate or not, these acts still impact their profits, and companies pass the costs on to the rest of us in the higher premiums they charge.
Anyhow, back to the point of the topic at hand. As high as health benefits can be, I think a separate vision or dental plan is ludicrous. I expect for my health insurer to offer a single plan with provisions to address all of my medical needs. Vision and dental are essential aspects of one’s health screenings. They are medically necessary. Many serious, life-threatening maladies are often identified by visits to orthodontists or ophthalmologists. Problems with vision and dental may even be risk factors for other, serious conditions. Most specifically, (1) Gum disease is associated with an increased risk of heart disease; (2) Poor dental health increases the risk of a bacterial infection in the blood stream, which can induce cardiovascular problems; and (3) There is a strong connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, the eye doctor may even spot conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes or cholesterol problems even before your primary care doctor diagnosis it. I recall hearing or reading a report that the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s brain tumor was identified first by his ophthalmologist. Consequently, vision and dental care are crucial, and their screenings and treatment ought not to be treated as optional. Requiring customers to have separate plans in order for the costs of vision and dental to be covered implies such exams are far less important than they truly are.
I called the customer care number of my insurer and inquired about this. The rep did a lot of double talk in her reply. The gist of her reply is that insurers are not required to provide such coverage in their standard health care plans. That’s a bunch of bunk. That lack of a mandate is a pretty lame reason, if you ask me.
I am dismayed that sufficient care isn’t included in the primary plans that are offered. This is fairly consistent across the spectrum of health benefits plans. Health care reform is one thing we badly need.