Friday, September 15, 2017

Biggest Purchase of 2017: Urgent Dental Care

Put another way, unless I suddenly turn around and do something completely ridiculous and out of character sometime in the next three months, I've now made my most expensive purchase of 2017. And it wasn't any fun, nor particularly voluntary. As a precaution, content warning on this post for those who are squeamish about dentistry. No gory details here, but some of my friends found even a bare-bones recounting of what happened rather icky.

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I'm probably clumsier than average because, about once a year, out of the blue, I'll trip and fall right in the middle of a city sidewalk. This time, instead of skinning my knee, the majority of the impact hit my upper lip and front teeth. The result was $2650 in urgent dental work to repair the damage, which affected two teeth. This was all pre-insurance, with an out of network dentist, so I paid up front and will be filing claims with my dental insurance.

The bill reflected a total of:
  • $250 - for x-rays;
  • $100 - for the initial exam and consultation, which included pushing a tooth that was knocked loose back into place;
  • $1200 - for the root canal on the broken tooth; and
  • $1100 - for the reconstruction of the broken tooth.
Dental insurance is not generous, so I can recoup at most 20% (for the root canal) to 40% (for reconstruction) per line item on the bill. There are probably additional policy terms that will decrease my reimbursement. I may eventually need another root canal, for the formerly loose tooth, but that remains to be seen. There may also be other, more expensive cosmetic work that I could need later to get closer to what my teeth looked like pre-accident. 

One lesson from all this: Thank goodness for emergency funds! I'd saved a good-sized one while at my previous firm, and managed not to touch it all year long despite the substantial pay cut I took for my clerkship. Then this happened. Womp womp. 

So there we have it, my most expensive purchase for 2017, particularly if we consider all of the financial consequences of my fall as one purchase, including the dental care and a few other related (but, thankfully, significantly less substantial) medical expenses. The exact total impact of the accident is still up in the air, but it's definitely already a fearsome number, even if all goes well on the insurance front. Alas!

As an aside, when I first read that Refinery29 article about several women's biggest purchases for 2016, I had found most of the examples difficult to relate to and inconsistent with my experience of my biggest purchases for each of the years since I first started law school. None of mine were designer items, despite my fondness for shiny, fancy things and my tendency to get attached to the "idea" of them. At the same time, I also knew, from personal experience, that judging others on big ticket purchases is unfair, as the circumstances and context surrounding each particular purchase are unique, and generally very personal. From an outside perspective, most of my biggest purchases could have been worthy of judgment or criticism.

While my biggest expense in past years was generally education-related, the full extent of each was often far greater than strictly "necessary". Each of them happened in a context that might make me seem frivolous (like when I bought a new MacBook the day before an exam when my old one died only a month after Applecare expired, and by the way, I was two months in arrears on my student housing rent because I was waiting on my law firm summer associate salary... I swear it wasn't as bad as it sounds, and that similar things happen to people much more frugal than I, but it was still... foolish). As for this year, when one really gets down to it, who else trips on a sidewalk and ends up with a bill for more than, say, the cost of a Burberry trench coat? That's a long way of saying I don't believe in judging big ticket purchases, and darn, I wish this hadn't happened.

What is, or will likely be, your biggest expense of 2017? Do you regret the purchase? Any thoughts on American dental insurance? Some of my friends have done the math and consider dental insurance not worth it. I don't agree, even if I have significantly worse than expected outcomes with my claims. (My employer-offered dental insurance has always been affordable, less than $15 in pre-tax deductions per paycheck.) 

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