‘Hundreds of thousands’ of seniors will get subsidized dental care next month, health minister vows


Canada's health minister has promised that “hundreds of thousands” of seniors will receive subsidized dental treatment under the Canada Dental Care Plan (CDCP) next month, despite an expected low enrollment rate of dentists providing dental care.

“May is going to see hundreds of thousands of older people,” Mark Hollander said outside the House of Commons this week. “My aim is to make sure we do get everyone seen and to scale up the system that's in place ”

Holland acknowledged there will be “bumps along the way” once the public program – which should eventually provide dental coverage to one in four Canadians – launches in a matter of weeks. Ottawa is gradually expanding eligibility, starting with Canadian residents aged 70 and older; 1.7 million seniors have already signed up.

“It's going to take some time for us to be fully rolled out…it's going to be a challenge to meet people's full needs, we've always known that,” Holland said.

Watch: Dentists slow to sign up for federal dental care plan

Not enough dentists join the National Dental Care Scheme

About 1.6 million Canadian seniors sign up for the National Dental Care Plan, but only a few thousand dentists agree to participate. That could force seniors to scramble to find a new dentist who participates in the program.

Holland's comments are at Oral health providers have been slow to sign up for the program, CBC News reveals. The dental association believes the paperwork required to process insurance claims in Ottawa places an unreasonable burden on dental practices already struggling with a lack of administrative staff.

Holland said another way to have dentists bill the federal government for services is being studied, but did not provide further details.

“We formed a working group to really keep the administrative burden as low as possible,” Holland said, adding that in 90 percent of cases, the program's goal is to reimburse dental offices within two days. .

“We can't leave it unchecked or someone could misuse it and we don't want that and we do have a responsibility to the taxpayers,” he said.

NDP health critic Peter Julian said Ottawa needs to simplify its billing system to make the dental program successful.

“This is the biggest healthcare initiative we've seen since Medicare for All,” Julian said. “We want to maximize the number of dentists participating in the scheme across the country.”

Dental care is a key pillar of the supply and confidence agreement between the federal Liberal government and the NDP.

The deal has now been in place for more than two years, with the NDP backing the Liberals in a key vote in the House of Commons, keeping the minority government in power. In return, the Liberals promised to pass legislation on NDP priorities, such as national dental coverage.

Conservatives remain silent on dental care stance

Conservative health critic Stephen Ellis would not answer reporters' questions on Wednesday about the party's stance on the $13 billion dental care plan, despite repeated requests for comment from the official opposition.

Conservative Party and Bloc Québécois vote against legislation In October 2022, this includes a temporary dental care scheme for children – a temporary scheme introduced while the government works to introduce the CDCP.

Ellis spoke briefly to reporters before attending a Conservative caucus meeting on Wednesday.

“You know what, it's interesting because the health minister has been bragging about how many Canadians have signed up for dental care plans. I guess the challenge I want you all to take up is how many dentists have signed up, so I'll leave that to You,” he told reporters.

Holland said last week that “thousands” of oral health providers have signed up for the program so far. CBC News has repeatedly asked the minister's office for more specific figures.

Conservative health critic and Cumberland-Colchester MP Dr. Stephen Ellis is asking Health Canada to reverse its regulatory changes.
Conservative health critic Dr. Stephen Ellis would not answer questions about his party's position on the Canada Dental Care Plan (CDCP). (Adrian Wild/Canadian Press)

'I was worried it wasn't going to happen': Halifax senior

Halifax senior Julie Kelsey found that although she qualified for coverage, her dentist wouldn't participate and the program's rollout was “a mess.”

The retiree said one of her biggest expenses is paying for dental bills out of pocket, which costs $2,000 to $3,000 a year.

“I guess what I'm going to do next week is call around, but it sounds like it's going to be really hard to find people,” Kelsey said.

She said seniors should get clear updates on the program from the federal government and dentists.

“No one told us anything. I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering what happened,” she said.

“I'm afraid that's not going to happen.”

Do you have questions about how Canada’s new dental care plan might affect you? Send an email to ask@cbc.ca.



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