Dentists won’t need to sign up for national dental-care plan to participate: health minister

Amid criticism and concerns about the national dental-care plan, Health Minister Mark Holland tells CityNews dentists won’t have to sign up for the new plan anymore to participate in the program.

Under the initial plan, dentists had to opt into the plan but some say they didn’t have enough information about the program to sign up, which made patients worry if their dentist told them they would not be participating.

“We’re taking that away,” Holland said on Breakfast Television on Wednesday, adding he’s been speaking with dental providers who have said they’re nervous about signing up for the program.

“We’re gonna make it so easy to participate. All you have to do is have somebody walk in, show their card, and a dentist can try it once and see how they like it, see how it works for them. We’re making it so that it’s as simple as any other insurance plan.”

Holland said the update to the program hasn’t officially been announced but that it’s important for those who require dental care to receive it.

“Working with providers we want to make it as easy as possible for them to to participate and to take away any concerns that they might have. If you don’t get your mouth taken care of, it can lead to all kinds of chronic disease and illness so it’s a major issue around prevention not just social justice.”

CityNews asked the minister if dentists would still have to sign up for the plan even after dentists try it out one time.

“No … if you want to continue just using the portal without ever sort of agreeing to participate, you can. And then you can just keep doing it once, a thousand times. And then if you get comfortable, then you could put yourself on the list of providers if you want, so it’s a simple process.”

The dental program, which was a key pledge in the Liberals’ political pact with the NDP, is expected to provide dental coverage to uninsured families who earn a household income of under $90,000. Registration has been rolled out in phases, and eligible seniors 65 and older are expected to begin receiving coverage. The program is expected to cost $13 billion over five years.

The Liberals have been facing criticism for the program and on Wednesday, Holland said the government is working to address dentists’ concerns by making it easier to participate without having to officially enroll, and expects to see “huge participation.”

The Canadian Dental Association said dentists cannot participate in a national dental-care plan unless they know exactly how it will work.

“We need to know what we’re agreeing to and what we’ll be able to do for the patients in order to care for them,” Heather Carr, the association’s president said Wednesday. “I feel that we need to get it right from the beginning.”

Dentists also said they feel like they’re being asked to bill less for participants who are eligible for the program.

“The fee guides aren’t set by us, the fee guides are set by the dentist, they have a separate process, so we have to, as you know respecting tax dollars, look at what we can afford as a government.”

“So, for example, in cleaning that’s about 97 per cent of the fee guide so there’s a gap … a dentist is going to see a patient take a look at their circumstances and make a call, but if they’re at 97 per cent [and] if they wanted to charge three per cent for equal billing, then they can do that. I’m not going to champion it, because I want them to take a look at individual circumstances.”

“These are, remember, in many cases, very vulnerable people. We have seniors on very limited incomes, who’ve never had oral health care before, going into the dentist’s office for the first time.”

The national dental care program is expected to roll out May 1 starting with seniors. Holland said it will then roll out to the rest of the population over the next year and a half.

With files from The Canadian Press