Monday, January 06, 2014

Wisconsin 101: All I got for Christmas were my two front teeth

I was going to buy a $600 purse to celebrate my promotion at work, but then I decided I would rather have teeth.

Or gums. I decided I would rather have gums.

My teeth have never treated me well, although I have been nothing but good to them. Even when I was in grad school and didn't have dental insurance, I went to the dentist for my cleanings and paid for it out of my own pocket. When you are paying your medical and dental costs yourself - no or high-deductible insurance, you make different decisions. Or I do. I had a high-deductible policy after I was laid off from my job and I was highly motivated to call around to get prices for various things, not that a doctor's office will necessarily tell you everything. I would have appreciated knowing that I can diagnose a UTI with a $13 kit from Walgreen's, for example.

At my last checkup, my dentist looked at my teeth and frowned, which is never a good sign, and informed me that I needed gum grafts on 24 and 25. I went to the endodontist for an estimate and walked out with a treatment plan that cost almost as much as our new roof did.

Yes. Ten thousand dollars worth of dental work.

And I wouldn't even get good-looking teeth out of it. Gum grafts are the gym socks of dental work: you have to have them but people only notice if they are gross. Nice gym socks don't really elevate your look. They just keep you from looking bad.

Ten thousand dollars.

Our roof was $11,000. We got three bids to settle on that price.

Perhaps a second opinion from another endodontist. I don't know about your dental insurance, but mine pays only $1,000 of benefits a year, so if you have two cleanings and a cavity, you are pretty close to the limit. At that rate, I would need to stretch the work out over five years.

Also, $10,000 seemed high to me, although I have no problems with compensating professionals for their knowledge. I am not paying my dentist for the ten minutes he took to fill my cavity: I am paying him for the years of post-college education and experience he needed to be able to do it.

But I really wasn't interested in paying for the aquarium, the free coffee, the free soda, the waterfall wall, and the high-tech computer system at Endodontist #1.

I called Endodontist #2. Made an appointment for 8 a.m. on Friday. Had to wake up and leave early to allow time for the ice-covered streets. Got to the office. It was a very basic office- no waterfall, no free soda, plain chairs in the waiting room. Low overhead.

E2 was not there. I waited. Waited some more. Receptionist called E2 to discover he had forgotten he had an 8 a.m. appointment. I gritted my teeth and took a deep breath. I am not a person who throws a tantrum. First, I am from a low-drama background and my people do not throw tantrums. It is considered tacky. Second, I have found that one rarely gets what one wants when one throws a tantrum. When I was working at Macy's in Ladies Finer Sportswear, I was never inclined to be more accommodating to tantrum throwers. You don't have the coupon? And you show up at the register at midnight oh five? And then you ask me to do a price check on five items? And then want me to give you the coupon discount anyhow?

No. I will not do that. I will work to rules in that situation.

So. I try not to be the after midnight pain in the neck customer.

But I explained to the receptionist that I had just started a new job the day before and I didn't want to look bad coming in so late on day 2, even though I had told my boss I had this appointment. She was super apologetic. But E2 was still late.

He showed up at 8:30. Did a quick but very thorough exam. Told me what needed to be done. I showed him the estimate from E1. He told me E1 used to work for him and that she was good, but he would take a slightly different approach. As in, procedure the first would be X instead of Y, as E1 had suggested, and should cost $800 instead of $1,600. I could spend more money, he told me, but because of a, b, and c, it really wasn't necessary.

Then he apologized again for being late and told me he would not charge me for the consultation. Which endeared him to me forever, because I have been kept waiting by many a medical professional but not once has one ever offered to waive his fee.

I cancelled with E1.


Gaylin said...

Augh. I am so grateful for my union job, living in Canada and having benefits.

My dental coverage is 100%. Mind you that is 100% of the provincial fee guide. That means if a procedure, like my last crown, costs 978 under the fee guide, my dentist charged me 1,094, means my crown cost me $116. Almost all dentists charge more than the fee guide, the guide hasn't changed in the last 7 years, not keeping up with lab fees etc.

Move to Vancouver, I will adopt you . . .

Gaylin said...

Checked with my insurance carrier, a grafting procedure from start to finish would cost $4314 here in BC.

$10,000 seems really, really high.

cf said...

No, $10,000 for four different areas!

webb said...

You are very smart to comparison shop - even for new gums. I can take a lot of bare basics offices for that kind of savings. Hope things work out well for you.