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HMOS, DISCOUNT PLANS FOR DENTAL CARE OFFER PALATABLE PREMIUMS

SHARE HMOS, DISCOUNT PLANS FOR DENTAL CARE OFFER PALATABLE PREMIUMS

When you're shopping for a dental plan on your own, an HMO or discount plan can make premiums a little more palatable.

Dental plans for individuals offer a lot less than group plans. That's because insurers figure most people who are looking for an individual policy have dental problems requiring expensive care.For instance, a typical premium for an employee's dental coverage under a group plan would be $240 per year, according to Foster Higgins, a benefits consulting firm.

That coverage would pay 100 percent of the cost of a cleaning, 80 percent of a filling and 50 percent of a crown.

Compare that with Mutual of Omaha's plan for individuals: It sells for $192 a year per adult, but it doesn't cover preventive services or orthodontia.

There are alternatives that are more cost-efficient:

- HMOs. About half of HMO dental plans let you join on your own, although the deal isn't as sweet as in a group.

For example, for an individual policy through the Delta Dental Plan of California, you'll pay a modest $85 yearly, but co-payments are 30 percent to 50 percent higher than with group membership - a typical arrangement.

Dental Network of America (800-323-6840) sells its discount plan, Value-Dent, for $69 and promises discounts of up to 25 percent on dental services, including orthodontia, from 15,000 dentists nationwide.

Signature (800-346-0310), which is marketed through Montgomery Ward, and PlanPlus (800-424-3398) have similar arrangements.