Dentists hesitant to sign up for federal dental plan; seniors advised to look at all options

Canada’s health minister met with dentists on Thursday to address concerns about the Canadian Dental Care Plan as the Alberta Dental Association questioned whether enough dentists will sign up to deliver care when the plan starts for seniors in May.

Eligible seniors will be able to access oral health-care treatment through the  plan (CDCP) as early as May, with applications having been open since December for those 87 and above, and to additional age groups in the months since. As of this month, those 70 and older are eligible to apply, with those 65 to 69 able to sign up come May.

Dr. Jenny Doerksen, president of the Alberta Dental Association says Ottawa still has not provided enough details.

She met with the federal health minister on Thursday, along with representatives of dental associations from across the country.

“Why are you putting up barriers by introducing the concept of registration and contracts with unknown terms and conditions? We didn’t get a very clear answer to that,” Doerksen said.

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Dentists are balking at the idea of signing contracts in order to join the program and are also concerned about imposing more paperwork on administrative staff.

Doerksen said Canada’s dentists support the idea of a national public dental care plan but calls this current plan flawed.

“The number one concern is that unlike other programs, this particular Canadian dental care plan is asking dentists to sign up to a contract without any terms and conditions,” Doerksen said.

“These are unnecessary and unknown to us and this really interferes with the patients’ autonomy to to choose their own dentist,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Who benefits from Canada’s federal dental plan?'

Who benefits from Canada’s federal dental plan?

A spokesperson for Health Minister Mark Holland says he had a “productive” meeting with dentists on Thursday.

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“Oral health providers are essential to the success of the CDCP. That’s why our government is committed to working with them to explore ways to reduce barriers so that all oral health professionals can provide services to patients under the CDCP.”

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The spokesperson said in a statement: “the ‘contract’ that is being referred to by Dr. Doerksen is a claims and payment processing agreement, which is an industry standard when direct billing.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t say there was any additional information so I’m still in the same boat as I was a few months ago. It’s very unclear to me how the Canadian dental plan is going to roll out.  I’m not sure how this is going to affect our patients, our practice and our staff,” Doerksen said.

Laura Woods is an independent dental hygienist who works at long term care centers in Calgary.

She’s been advising seniors to consider hygienists who are able to provide a wide range of services.

“We’re letting them know that it isn’t the end of the road and there are multiple oral health care providers that have engaged in the program. They have access to both a dentist and an independent hygienist across Alberta to help them,” Woods said.

She said the program is in its infancy and she’s been speaking at care facilities to let people know more about the program.

“If they can’t find a dentist, there are independent dental hygienist they can seek out. We have a large scope of practice in Alberta. We can do exams and x-rays and we can diagnose and help refer. We can help find individuals who are engaged in that program,” Woods said.

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“I know a lot of seniors right now, with the rising cost of everything, will do without dental care in order to pay their day-to-day bills,” said Jeannette Provo, the executive director for Confederation Park 55+ Activity Centre in Calgary. “They’re going to end up possibly in urgent care or possibly at the hospital getting their needs looked at because they can’t afford to necessarily be paying a dentist.”

Provo said the plan could be very beneficial to older adults.

“I’m a little disappointed that the dentists aren’t signing on. I understand it from their perspective as well, they have a business to run. I think there needs to be more clarity for the dentists before they move ahead with this,” Provo said.

To be eligible under the plan, Canadians must not already have access to dental insurance, have an annual adjusted family net income of under $90,000, be a Canadian resident for tax purposes, and have a filed tax return from the previous year.

Letters have been sent out to eligible Canadians 70 and older for them to apply to the CDCP, which provides a code so they can apply by phone.

There is also a co-pay for those with household net incomes between $70,000 and $90,000.

The national program will eventually apply to one quarter of Canadians, but it’s being rolled out gradually, starting with seniors first.

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An interim dental plan has been covering children under the age of 12.

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