NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party was ready to be flexible in the first phase of the Liberal government’s dental plan, but that going forward New Democrats will not bend any further.
The government has agreed to set up a federal dental plan for uninsured low- and middle-income families under a supply and confidence agreement with the NDP.
In exchange for realizing its vision for dental care, among other priorities, the NDP agreed not to call an election until 2025.
The agreement stipulates that the government will provide dental care to children under 12 who meet the criteria by the end of this year.
Singh acknowledged in an interview that the timeline was ambitious, which is why the NDP favored an interim measure. “That flexibility has allowed the government to provide that in a flexible way.”
Rather than launch a full-fledged program, the government opted to issue checks directly to eligible families. The new benefit provides up to $650 for each eligible child and is based on family income.
To access the money, families with a household income of less than $90,000 must certify that their child does not have access to private dental coverage, they will have out-of-pocket dental costs that they plan to use the money and they be able to show receipts.
The government has announced that the benefit will be a “first step”, while a more comprehensive program is being developed.
Singh said his party had agreed to the benefit plan on the condition that the full program be ready for the next phase of qualifying patients by the end of next year.
The program is supposed to extend to all children under 18, people with disabilities and the elderly by the end of 2023, and apply to all eligible family members by 2025.
This is not the only line in the sand that the NDP has drawn.
“It must be the full federally administered program by 2023,” Singh said.
This means, from the NDP’s point of view, that the government cannot ask the provinces to offer the dental care program, as they have done for child care.
The health minister’s office said in a statement that the government continues to work with partners, including provinces and territories, to improve access to dental care, and that more details will be released “in due course. “.
The fact that the government is taking longer to implement the program is good news, said Carlos Quinonez, associate dean and director of dentistry at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
“The best-case scenario, for me, would be if there was a significant lead – one, two, or even three years – to sort of think through all the things that will need to be considered in order to get a likelihood of success for such a plan,” said Quinonez, who was consulted by the federal government.
On the one hand, the government will have to carefully consider how to provide dental care to the uninsured without disrupting what is “apparently a relatively good system”, he said.
Another condition of the NDP is that the plan, when completed, include “the highest possible coverage” with services that will protect people’s quality of life.
“We want to make sure the quality of life is top notch: the best quality and best practices,” Singh said, acknowledging that some services would fall outside the scope.
That balance can be hard to find, however, Quinonez said.
“For me, this is a very important question because it must not only be scientifically defensible, but also ethically defensible.”
It is difficult to set hard and fast rules on the number of cleanings a person is allowed per year, for example, because people with greater oral health needs may need more care, he said. he declares. “Those are exactly the reasons why I think it’s prudent to take some time and really think about the implications of all of this.”
These questions are further complicated when you consider how health and aesthetics have intertwined with dentistry, said Catherine Carstairs, a professor in the Department of History at the University of Guelph and author of The Smile Gap: a history of oral health and social inequalities. .
“I think it’s difficult in dentistry to distinguish between what is necessary and what is perceived as cosmetic, because there really is a mix.”
Carstairs said she was disappointed with the recently introduced benefit package, but still has high hopes for what the federal government can accomplish in time.
“It’s not really going to go very far to meet people’s needs,” she said. “But I’m still happy to see that the program seems to be going to some extent.”
A bill allowing the payment of benefits should be tabled in the House of Commons as soon as the MPs officially return from their summer holidays.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 17, 2022.