July 21, 2024


A Passion for Better Health

Canadian dental care plan: 2M seniors signed up, 10K providers

Canadian dental care plan: 2M seniors signed up, 10K providers

Canada’s dental care plan is “getting there” Health Minister Mark Holland said Wednesday defending the program’s rollout that’s now seen two million seniors sign up, but just 10,000 oral health providers enrolled to treat them.

“This is the largest program in federal government history… There are literally tens of thousands of seniors being seen every single week,” Holland said at an event touting the latest registration milestone.

The minister was responding to a question about the Conservative party disseminating criticism about the percentage of providers across the country that have registered to administer what Pierre Poilievre’s spokesperson called a “costly and disastrous” program that has “caused nothing but pain.”

“One of the things that’s deeply frustrating is that the Conservatives have spread a lot of misinformation about this and have deliberately tried to scare providers… I think they’re cheering for it to fail,” he said.

The health minister went on to note he doesn’t have a problem if the Conservatives want to campaign on a pledge to take a program away from Canadians that in the first weeks has allowed seniors to rectify complicated oral health issues.

“But, trying to actively cheer and work against providers participating or seniors getting care, I’ve got a major problem with.”

The Canadian Dental Care Plan will be accessible for up to nine million low-income uninsured Canadians of all ages once completely up and running in 2025. Right now, the program is rolling out in phases.

Stemming from a Liberal-NDP supply-and-confidence commitment, the government began enrolling seniors in December, and opened up access to care on May 1.

To date two million Canadian seniors aged 65 and older have been approved to receive coverage.

Of these, more than 90,000 have received dental care from a participating provider. The program, which Health Canada has sought to emphasize is not a formal insurance plan, covers a range of oral health services, such as cleanings, X-rays, cavity fillings, dentures, and root canals. 

Children under the age of 18 and Canadians with a valid Disability Tax Credit certificate, will be eligible to enrol next month. Remaining eligible Canadians are scheduled to gain access in 2025.

As the program continues to open to more Canadians, dentists and hygienists continue to express reservations about the program, its administrative burden, and the reimbursement structure.

So far, close to 10,000 oral dentists, dental hygienists and denturists have enrolled to offer oral health care covered under the federal plan, making it so eligible patients either don’t have to pay out-of-pocket, or can pay less for often pricey procedures.

Holland said he’s continuing to have “incredibly constructive conversations” with various dental associations, and said he thinks the government is “getting there” on smoothing out the kinks.

“There was a lot of prognostications that we weren’t going to see more than 15 per cent of providers. In just a couple of weeks, we’re at 30 per cent of providers. There’s certain areas of the country, where we have almost everybody joining,” Holland said.

“In fact, in regions when we have providers joining because they can see how easy it is, we’re seeing an explosion of numbers anywhere anybody’s participating.”

Responding to Holland’s remarks, Conservative MP and health critic Stephen Ellis doubled down.

“Less than a third of all providers are using the program and even the head of the national dental association has refused to sign up his own dental practice onto Trudeau’s failed system. The vast majority of Canadians don’t even qualify for this so called ‘universal’ program, and those who do are unable to get the dental care they need at the dentist they want,” Ellis said in an emailed statement.

Without addressing whether the Conservatives would scrap the program, his response said a Poilievre government would rein in the Liberals’ “inflationary waste to bring down costs for families so they can finally afford to visit the dentist.” 

Starting in July, providers will be able to directly bill to Sun Life, who the government tapped to operate the program, for services provided on a claim-by-claim basis, without formally signing up for the dental care plan.

“This means clients will be able to see any oral health provider of their choice, as long as the provider agrees to direct bill Sun Life for services provided under the plan,” according to Health Canada.

To implement this public program, the federal government has committed $13 billion over five years, starting in 2023-24, and is budgeting $4.4 billion annually from there.