Monday, 22 August 2011

Unexpected costs

It's the nightmare of anyone barely making ends meet - the sudden spectre of an unavoidable and unaffordable cost.

I've just broken a tooth. An incisor, even, and the one next to it seems to have a cavity. Last time I went to the dentist I was informed that the medication I'm on is known to dry your mouth out which causes problems with teeth, and I admit I haven't had the greatest habits over the last few months. Comfort food and frequent lack of caring means I haven't been taking very good care of myself - including my teeth. So, this may have been inevitable. I'll be calling a dentist tomorrow for an appointment where the disapproval will no doubt be tangible and I'll be able to ask about payment options; probably I'll be able to pay in installments.

Other than cash assets, there are three places I can immediately go to to see if I can get help with payments.

1. Health insurance, which I do have. However, my plan with Southern Cross is VIP 2. These are the VIP plans:

VIP 1 ► the foundation module that everybody begins with, provides cover for the least predictable, high cost conditions that require in-hospital surgical and medical treatment.
VIP 2 ► provides the same cover as VIP 1 plus consultations with specified specialists and diagnostic tests and imaging.
VIP 3 ► provides the same cover as VIP 2 plus day-to-day medical services like, doctor visits, prescriptions and physiotherapy.
VIP 4 ► provides the same cover as VIP 3 plus dental and optical benefits.

They say it's modular, meaning you can tailor it to what you can pay and choose what you want covered, but as you can see it's incremental - you can only get dental coverage if you also get doctor visits, prescriptions etc. When I was working out what I could afford, I couldn't manage that, though ideally I would have wanted dental coverage. (If you do have VIP 4 it only covers 75% of dental and optical rather than 100%.) I believe they do have plans where dental is truly an optional module that doesn't have other requirements, like Wellbeing, but because VIP is a more restricted one, when I was choosing my plan it was the cheapest option. So, while I will double check, it looks like I don't have much hope here.

2. ACC covers dental injury, ie, a result of an accident or sports injury, or as a result of treatment. They do not cover wear and tear, and "ACC will not fund treatment to teeth that were decayed prior to the accident and the need for treatment is to resolve non-accident related conditions." In complicated cases (where complicated is actually pretty simple) a dental advisor will decide, which can take up to 21 days, or if it's extremely complicated (there was a dental problem before the accident, they need to verify that the treatment is accident-related) up to four months.

3. WINZ has a Special Needs Grant for emergency dental treatment! "Dental treatment must arise from an emergency situation which has given rise to an immediate need." They also provide a helpful link to the maximum payment for emergency dental treatment: $300. If that isn't enough and you're receiving a benefit, you can apply for advanced payment of benefit, which should be no more than $200. At some point in the process, it's not clear where but I suspect before you get anything at all, you must have exhausted other options, including assistance from other government agencies - this may well include ACC, which hopefully doesn't mean waiting four months for their decision.

As an aside, I found the following text on the Other Sources of Assistance page:

"Consider the balance of any Student Loan available. Consideration should be given to declining the application if this option has not been exhausted. Note under no circumstances are students to be referred to institution hardship funds. Students may be eligible for Special Needs Grants assistance." (my emphasis)

I have seen people talk about "student-poor" as being different from actual poor. I guess even the government thinks that "actual" poor people don't study.

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