Dental care program accepting claims for 1 million seniors

OTTAWA — More than 1,200 seniors have visited the dentist and had their applications processed through the federal government's new dental care program, the Liberals announced Wednesday.

The first 1 million seniors who signed up for the program received benefit cards and became eligible to file claims under the program on May 1.

Citizen Services Minister Terry Beech said Newfoundland and Labrador had its first case at 7:08 a.m.

He announced the launch of a portal where eligible seniors over 65 who are uninsured can apply for coverage.

“More than 13,000 people have signed up this morning, which means I can tell you that 1.9 million Canadians are now enrolled in the Canada Dental Care Plan,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.

The government began recruiting senior citizens late last year. Children under 18 and people receiving disability tax credits will be eligible to register next month.

Until now, patients have only been able to access services that did not require pre-approval, and they may still have to pay part of the cost out of pocket if the government doesn't cover the full cost of treatment.

“Patients should confirm the amount not covered by the (plan) and that they will need to pay their provider directly,” Health Canada warned in a release.

Until July, patients will need to see a government-registered oral health provider.

Health Minister Mark Holland recently announced that he plans to change the requirements for dental registration based on the feedback he has heard from dentists and other providers.

Health Canada says 6,500 oral health providers, including dentists, hygienists and denturists, are contracted to provide care for patients enrolled in the federal dental program.

A recent Canadian Dental Association survey of 4,000 dentists across Canada showed that 61 per cent would not participate in the program under the current circumstances.

Procurement Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who previously served as health minister, said dentists' concerns had been cleared.

“All of their concerns have been addressed,” he told a news conference on Wednesday. For example, starting this summer, dentists will not have to fully enroll in the program to treat patients covered by the program.

But the association said its members still had reservations.

“There remain significant gaps in fully meeting the needs of patients and dentists,” Dr. Joel Antle, the association's president, said in a statement.

He said dentists need more information about the terms and conditions dentists will need to agree to, how benefits will be coordinated under provincial plans and what levels of services will be pre-authorized.

The plan is considered part of a cooperative political deal between the Liberals and NDP.

Once fully rolled out, the program should be available to anyone without private insurance and with a household income of less than $90,000.

The government estimates this means covering up to 9 million people, making the program the largest welfare program in Canadian history.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024.

Laura Osman, Canadian Press

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