Affordable Dental Care for Graduate Students

Most MIT graduate students lack dental insurance and defer dental care as a result. At present, to obtain dental care, graduate students must either pay for services in full, have insurance under their own prepaid plans from private insurers, or have coverage under their parents’ or spouse’s plans.

Many of MIT’s peer institutions, including Harvard, provide dental plans (or at least the option to subscribe) to their graduate students. Due to advocacy efforts of the Graduate Student Council, primarily the Housing and Community Affairs Committee, as well as the strong support of Dean for Graduate Education Steven R. Lerman ’72, there will be a voluntary, prepaid dental plan available for graduate students starting in the upcoming academic year. The plan (“Plan A”) will provide basic diagnostic and preventive care as well as discounts for more substantial dental procedures.

This is a substantial gain for graduate students as well as for health care at MIT, generally construed. Graduate students without dental insurance from their parents or spouses should enroll in this new plan in the fall. With the renewed emphasis on dental care, graduate students should take a more active role in their dental health and seek out appropriate care.

But we should not rest on our laurels. The basic diagnostic and preventive care in this new plan is just a start. The Institute can and should provide a more substantial dental care program for graduate students, besides Plan A. Dental insurance more closely matching that of MIT employees should be provided for graduate students.

In fact, the basic dental plan that will be rolled out this fall provides an opportunity to gather more accurate data about the state of dental care of graduate students. This data will allow the Graduate Student Council to price a better dental plan (“Plan B”) which provides more significant coverage of restorative care. Performing this analysis is necessary, as MIT would be required to self-insure Plan B (unlike the basic plan). By making a principled, data-driven argument to MIT for the pricing of this plan, the GSC will be able to make a strong case to the Institute to self-insure this plan. The Institute should take this request seriously.

However, neither Plan A nor Plan B can address the needs of students with extreme dental cases. From our claims analysis and feedback on the Cost of Living Survey, some students had to pay as much as $4,000 for dental care last year. To address these extreme cases, the GSC has started a Catastrophic/Emergency Dental Care Fund which has received seed funds from the GSC matching funds from MIT Medical Chief of Oral Surgery Edward B. Seldin and Lerman. Growing this fund is a priority of the Graduate Student Council.

The Web site for enrollment in Plan A (Delta Dental PPO Value Plan) is under construction and will be ready for use in September so that graduate students may enroll.

Chan, Chau, Ekstrom, Lin, Nir, and Wang are members of the Graduate Student Council.