Staggering Oral Surgery

September 30, 2011 in Member Stories

While I was in college my dentist told me that as long as I was still on my parent’s health plan, I should get my wisdom teeth taken out. They hadn’t yet become a problem and I put it off for another seven years. Had I known then what I know now, I could have saved myself a lot of discomfort, time, and money.

After getting a steady job with benefits I used my company’s dental plan to see the dentist for the first time in years. My wisdom teeth had become impacted and they were developing cavities.

I did some research and found out that my insurance plan entailed:

$50 annual deductible

20% co-pay of a $200 extraction

50% co-pay of a $500 partial-bony removal

50% co-pay of a $800 bony removal

$1500 maximum paid by insurance annually

So when I visited the oral surgeon I tried to get them to figure out which of my teeth would be considered bony and which would be considered extractions. They said they’d send me a detailed letter with the price estimates.

The total the oral surgeon’s office gave me was $2400 for XRays, extractions, and general anesthesia (plus something to help me with the general anesthesia which my insurance would not cover) and that was just my part! They wanted $1200 immediately and $1200 at the time of surgery.

This was a very large and unexpected sum of money and to be totally honest I didn’t have it. My wife and I had just gotten married a few weeks earlier and we’d paid for a lot of the wedding ourselves. I continued researching online and remembered my aunt telling me that she had staggered getting her wisdom teeth removed for insurance reasons. I also spent a few hours reading as many stories as I could find online of people who chose local anesthesia instead of general, and how they felt during and afterwards. Some of the stories were scary but most said it’s not as bad as imagined. In the end I came to the conclusion that it could save me much more than 50% to only get half the procedure.

I called the oral surgeon’s receptionist and changed my surgery to remove only the left two wisdom teeth, and to switch to local anesthesia.

They called me the next day with a new estimate: $240

In August 2011 I had the two left wisdom teeth taken out and I plan to have the right two taken out in April 2012, when my insurance plan year starts again.

The top-left came out in less than a minute, but the bottom-left took over 10 minutes with a lot of discomfort and stress, but it was bearable.

I’m very glad I was able to sit down and figure out the best way to reduce the cost of this procedure. I worry about other patients who would have accepted the first bill from their doctor or would have put off the procedure permanently. It also bothers me that I need to stagger care for something which was medically necessary.

Shane Mathews

1 response to Staggering Oral Surgery

  1. Shane – this is really a fascinating story. I read the phrase “with a lot of discomfort and stress, but it was bearable” over several times. I bet you have a high tolerance for pain. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of someone opting for less anesthesia to save money.

    More stories please!

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