Klett: Grad students have cavities, too

Sometime last July, I became aware of a deep, sustained pain in the left side of my mouth.

Causing massive headaches for up to three hours whenever I ate, I deduced that there was something wrong with my tooth. Given to hereditarily weak teeth, employer dental coverage became a deal-breaker once I graduated high school. Of course, the allure of Yale for graduate work was overriding, to put it lightly, and never did it occur to me that Yale might provide anything but the best possible dental insurance for its students. Unfortunately, in my time of need, what I found was a “discount plan” — Yale’s sole option for graduate student dental care.

The discount plan offered by Yale comes via a broker (called Co-Health) that offers access to providers enrolled with Aetna Health Corporation — a multinational business based out of Hartford, yet with relatively few locations in southern Connecticut. Not owning a car, I’ve been forced to choose between only two providers in New Haven — both of which are located on the same block of Chapel Street. Quality of care in this case is moot, as, apparently, beggars can’t be choosers.

Most important, following a consultation I immediately noticed the diminishing returns of this discount plan. In one example, a two-surface filling (as one might require for an incisor) receives a discount of nearly 60 percent, bringing the out-of-pocket cost from $210 to $90. By contrast, a three-surface filling of white enamel (cheaper amalgam fillings are not offered) receives only a 25 percent discount, bringing the out-of-pocket from $260 to $200; a four-surface at $300 becomes $250, equating to a 16 percent discount.

When a cavity goes undetected and untreated, damage may reach the root, requiring a root canal. This was the prescription for my pain. A three-step, often four-visit process, a root canal consists of removing the roots and the head of the ailing tooth, installing a metal “post” into the base of the tooth, and finally adhering a porcelain (or handsome gold) crown modeled after the original. The three phases were quoted at $950, $320 and $1120, respectively, with discounted prices amounting to $725, $230 and $900. These discounts amount to 15 percent, 20 percent and topping-out around 30 percent, with my total out-of-pocket for one root canal coming to $1855 — roughly three and a half weeks of my monthly income.

From what I understand of insurance, it is meant to shelter the patient from massive unforeseen financial burdens such as a root canal. Yale’s discount plan does exactly the opposite, cutting some routine costs but leaving graduate students almost equally exposed to emergency costs.

Joseph Klett is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Sociology.


  • J GS

    I tried to use the "Yale Discount Plan" for dental work but found that it was too much of a hassle - the providers who honored it were few and far between and the discounts were not particularly substantial, as this article points out.

    I know that less and less of the business world is providing their employees with dental insurance these days… but as a top-notch institution with deep pockets, shouldn't we set our bar closer to the top of the pack rather than the bottom?

    Dental work is generally just as essential as the other care that is covered by our regular health insurance. It seems odd to me that we somehow just can't get dental insurance. I spent something like $800 out of pocket for essential dental work last year, which was a huge burden on me.

    Most other universities cover dental. What's our problem?

  • GRD '09

    I just chew on a sharp stick.

  • Disgruntled

    The University administration, or whoever decides the extent of coverage received by graduate students, should be ashamed of themselves.

    It's unacceptable that they expect a graduate student's income to be able to bear this type of financial burden. Yale has the money to take care of its own!!! Why don't they put it to good use?

  • Anonymous

    Katie Harrison for Ward 1!

  • BP

    do yale undergrads get dental coverage? why are they not complaining about this. too?

  • yale '10

    Two dangling modifiers in the first paragraph! I could barely keep reading!

    "Causing massive headaches for up to three hours whenever I ate, I deduced that there was something wrong with my tooth. Given to hereditarily weak teeth, employer dental coverage became a deal-breaker once I graduated high school."

  • GS

    Wow. I'm a new grad student and luckily I haven't yet had any encounters with dealing with dental care or the lack thereof. Three and a half weeks of income is crazy to have to shell out unexpectedly especially for something like this where really we should be covered. The last two sentences really just sum it up perfectly. Insurance exists for a reason----having to shell out a huge chunk of money like that would throw me off in more ways than one.

  • grad10

    one of the problems with not having dental insurance/ a yale dental plan is that there is very little information on providers - many grad students either don't go to the dentist or go at home, this means people have few experiences to share about providers here.

    I needed an emergency root canal in September and went to a dentist recommended by a friend. I couldn't afford to pay for everything at once (the root canal was done on my credit card) so I decided to wait until January to get a post and crown.
    In the meantime I found out about the discount plan and decided to switch - though there are only two providers in New Haven - as I would save several hundred dollars.
    The short story is that the new dentist on the discount plan broke my root canal filling when cleaning. she claims the original root canal was badly done. the original dentist, not surprisingly claims it's the new dentist's fault. Following back and forth between the two which involved various xrays and patronising advice from one, more x-rays and screaming (literally) from the other, I called the Yale Health Plan to see if there is any dental health professional on staff who could help me adjudicate between these two opinions. There isn't.

    A very nice dentist on the internet suggested I get a third opinion. But without more information it's basically a crapshoot. I've decided to wait until I go home in June to get the post and crown done.

    Dental insurance would encourage more people to get into routine care with a New Haven dentist which would (a) lead to less serious dental health issues and (b) mean that more people have information about the providers here and be able to deal with emergencies with more certainty and confidence than they have now.

    Dental care is a health issue, and should be treated as such. It is hard to be effective as a teacher or scholar with chronic toothache. Grad students should have dental insurance, just as other workers at Yale do.

  • Tom

    If you had sought treatment in a timely manner, would this have been simply a filling? If so, should Yale foot the bill for your own negligence? I don't understand the problem with personal responsibility.

  • Grad

    The problem is that a lot of grad students simply don't have the money to regularly see a dentist for cleanings and X-rays. So things that might have been easily caught as cavities turn into nightmares. It'd be great if this was a matter of personal responsibility, but we need insurance for that to be the case.

  • But…

    I believe that it is possible to obtain insurance from sources other than Yale. If the Yale dental plan is so inadequate the best solution is for grad students to go out and get a different dental plan. If you want to protect yourself from having to pay thousands of dollars for a procedure, pay a $30-$50 a month premium instead. The personal responsibility comes about when you don't take the time to learn what sort of coverage you have and then get burned when you don;t have gold plated benefits. Know what Yale gives you and if you find the plan not to your liking, opt out and find a better one. Simple.

  • Students Not Employees

    Great. Another GESO loving grad student. You guys are students not employees. You receive stipends not paychecks (which, unlike real workers, you continue to collect when you "go on strike"). There are hundreds of people out there just as qualified and willing to do everything you do without complaining about the dental plan. Go out and buy plan you like if the Yale plan is not up to snuff.

  • Nothing to opt out to

    I'm a graduate student and when I saw how paltry the Dental Discount Plan was, I definitely looked into outside providers. What I found was almost identical coverage at double and triple the cost. The world outside of Yale is simply no better. Our nation's health care is designed for working people (and you better believe I work for my money, #11), and the corporations (like Yale) which have fought to bring this care in-house. And like most working people, what I find is a lack of representation and concern across the board.

    Yale has the resources to correct this problem and to lead by quality of life as well as education.

  • Anonymous

    The dental insurance issue for Yale graduate students has been a priority for this year's president of the Graduate & Professional Student Senate, Bryan Woods. I suggest approaching him, or other members of GPSS, for further information about this issue.