Federal dental care program would make local dentist smile

Dentists need to be at the table to make sure program works, Dr. Carlascio says

Dentists are reacting with cautious optimism to the federal government’s plan to help low and middle-income families pay for their childrens’ dental care.

If passed, Bill C-31 – tabled September 20 – would give qualifying families with children under the age of 12 with up to $650 per child each year to pay for dental care services, depending on their household income.

The legislation would create a new Canadian Dental Care Plan. 

“This is positive news for patients that are going to be covered under this proposed legislation,” said Sault dentist Dr. Dante Carlascio, speaking to SooToday.

“In general it’s positive news for all of Canada because it’s good to see dental care getting attention on a national scale. This hasn’t really happened before.”

The new CDCP would provide dental care for an estimated 500,000 children up to the age of 12 at a cost of close to $1 billion.

The government’s goal is to expand the CDCP to include those under 18 by next year and all Canadians who qualify by the end of 2025.

“The general consensus from dentists is that it’s important that the federal government has dentists at the table to create a proper plan that’s going to work long term. We just want to make sure dentists have a say in how this program is created because we’re the ones who actually treat the patients,” Carlascio said.

“The Ontario Dental Association was not really consulted,” Carlascio said, expressing concerns that stem from what happened in the past in the realm of seniors’ dental care.

“In Ontario, in the past few years there’s been a dental program for low income seniors, mostly for extractions and dentures but it’s not at the regular dental office. You have to go through the health unit. The ODA was not consulted before that program was created and what has happened is that there’s about 100,000 eligible seniors in Ontario but only a fraction have been treated and there are wait lists, in several areas, of well over a year.”

“It’s not through the regular dental offices. People have to apply through regional public health units. In this case it would go through Algoma Public Health and you would be seen by a local dentist who has a contract there but they’re only there part time and there are only select services covered by that,” Carlascio said.

“So, if you don’t consult the ODA or any other provincial group you might end up with a program that’s quite inefficient and ineffective.”

Under the proposed federal dental plan, families with incomes of less than $70,000 a year will be able to qualify for $650 per year in dental coverage for children under 12 over the next two years. 

Families with incomes between $70,000 and $79,000 will be able to qualify for $390 per child per year for the next two years. 

Families with incomes between $80,000 and $89,000 could get $260 per child per year for the next two years.

However, the Ontario Dental Association stated, in a release, that “the ODA has been hearing from patients thinking about delaying dental care or cancelling their benefit coverage in the hopes their costs will be covered by the CDCP. This is not a good idea.”

“There are more questions than answers at this point.”

“We still don’t know how it will be administered, what services will be covered or how it will work with Ontario’s existing dental programs – all of which are massively underfunded,” the ODA stated as that group and other provincial dental associations want to work with the federal government on the details of how the CDCP will run.

For the proposed federal program, Carlascio said “you have to go through a lot of hoops, saying ‘I have no other kind of coverage, no private coverage.’”

Parents or guardians would apply through Canada Revenue Agency and prove that their child does not have access to private dental care coverage and that they will use the government funding to pay for dental services.

They would have to prove that they have a child in the 12 and under age group and that the family income meets the rules. Parents would also have to provide the government their employer’s information. 

Families using the program would also have to provide the feds with the dentist’s name and appointment date and keep hold of their dental bills in case the government asks them to verify the appointment took place.

Families that give false information, don’t provide receipts or don’t use the money for dental work could face a hefty fine.

Meanwhile, Carlascio said the proposed CDCP and its $650 per child each year is a good first step and should cover two cleanings and two fillings.

“For routine dental care, yes. It should pretty much cover most of that. But out of pocket costs could escalate if there are multiple cavities that need to be fixed or teeth that need to be extracted. It depends on the degree of dental work that’s needed.”

“We don’t know what will be included in the coverage over the next five years. There are a lot of unknowns but as long as they keep dentists at the table I feel like this could be a really good thing,” Carlascio said.

“No one deserves to be in dental pain, especially kids. Improving access to care should make a huge difference. Hopefully we’ll be able to treat dental problems in kids sooner.”      

“Research shows that with a lot of public health programs, if they’re properly funded, more eligible people will get the care that they need. It’s important that the most vulnerable people in our community get regular dental care. It’s needed. They deserve it. They just need access,” Carlascio said.

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