Canada's dental care plan faces provider hesitation

Health Minister tours to rally support amid payment concerns

Canada's dental care plan faces provider hesitation

Health Minister Mark Holland is currently on a mission to encourage Canadian oral-health providers, including dentists and hygienists, to participate in the new federal dental care plan.  

This plan, designed to offer dental benefits directly to individuals lacking insurance, has stirred concerns among providers regarding the government's proposed payment rates, as reported by The Canadian Press

The plan's initial rollout phase has already begun with senior citizens enrolling late last year, with services expected to be available from May, contingent upon provider registration.   

A survey revealed that about 61 percent of dentists, after reviewing the preliminary information, were hesitant to join the program, according to the Canadian Dental Association (CDA). 

While dental and hygienist associations align with the program's objectives, the discrepancy between the federal government's fee guides and those recommended by provincial and territorial entities has become a point of contention.  

Additional apprehensions relate to the program's terms and conditions, which some fear could impose undue administrative tasks on provider staff. Canada is home to approximately 16,000 dental offices, per CDA data.  

For the dental care plan's success, it is essential that dentists, oral surgeons, denturists, and independent hygienists register to participate. However, as of the registration opening on March 11, the government has not disclosed the number of sign-ups.   

Holland, addressing these concerns, emphasized the necessity of provider participation for the program's effectiveness.  

During his visit to Richmond Hill, Ontario — the kickoff location for his nationwide tour aimed at winning over providers — he reassured them of the government's intent to facilitate a process as straightforward as dealing with private insurance entities.  

He also mentioned that fee negotiations are “ongoing,” portraying the situation as a work in progress.   

Heather Carr, president of the CDA, expressed concerns over the program's foundation, suggesting it may be more politically motivated than policy driven. She stressed the importance of implementing fundamental principles to ensure patient care, reflecting a cautious stance towards the program's hasty implementation.   

The dental care plan is a result of a political agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, targeting uninsured Canadians with a family income below $90,000 annually.  

The program will gradually expand eligibility, starting with seniors, then covering children under 18, and individuals qualifying for the disability tax credit. Despite an impressive sign-up of 1.5 million seniors, the government has not specified a target for the number of needed dental care providers.   

Holland also acknowledged the challenge of accessibility for residents in remote, rural areas, hinting at limitations in immediate coverage. The government has allocated $250m over three years, beginning in 2025, to enhance oral health care access, particularly in isolated regions.   

Carr mentioned the decision to register for the program rests with individual dentists, citing her own reservations due to “unanswered questions” and concerns about the program's complexity.  

The reimbursement rates proposed by the government, intended to strike a balance between fairness to providers and taxpayers, have been critiqued for not fully covering the cost of services, potentially leaving patients to cover the difference.   

In defense, Holland highlighted that most listed services would be reimbursed at rates close to 90 percent of provincial fee guides, with some exceptions deemed less essential.  

As the program evolves, Holland views every participating patient and provider as a step towards the goal of universal oral health improvement, advocating for progress over perfection.