Federal Dental Care Coverage Might Lead Employers to Drop Private Plans, Industry Warns

New federal dental care coverage may have the unintended result of Canadian employers cancelling their private health care plans, industry players are warning.

Ondina Love, president of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association told the Senate finance committee that there is a risk of employers cancelling private health care plans.

“I think you either incentivize employers to maintain their dental benefits or you disincentivize them through large government fines and penalties if they take them away,” she said according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

The federal dental care bill is headed for Senate approval and if granted, households with family income below $90,000 could receive up to $650 per child for trips to the dentist.

Dr. Lynn Tomkins, president of the Canadian Dental Association, testified that two-thirds of Canadians have some sort of dental coverage already.

“That is something we wouldn’t want to see disrupted by any program that’s brought in. If employers were to start dropping their plans because there is some new federal plan that is a potential concern,” she said.

Senator Tony Loffreda from Quebec, asked in the House of Commons if there was a risk corporations might make a business decision to stop insuring employees for dental care, as the government was providing coverage.

“That is one of the concerns,” replied Dr. Tomkins.

There are also industry experts who welcome the plan.

Professor Carlos Quiñonez, director of the University of Toronto graduate specialty program in Dental Public Health, said the program would help those currenty “missed in our system.”

“It’s great news [for] the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who might benefit,” said Quiñonez.

Bill C-31, “An Act Respecting Cost of Living Measures Related to Dental Care,” passed third reading on Oct. 7. The Conservatives and Bloc voted against the bill, with the final vote 172 to 138.

The Bill was a deal between the Liberals and NDP in a confidence and supply agreement, and is being promoted as relief for the rising cost of living.

‘Interim Benefit’

“This is a first step, an interim benefit,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told the House of Commons health committee on Oct. 31.

The interim program will allow the government to issue payments directly to families, while the feds continue work on a stand-alone federal dental care insurance program estimated to be in place by 2025.

Health Canada officials told the Canadian Press on Oct. 28 that an external company still needs to be hired to process claims for a new permanent program.

Families will be told to apply through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and provide attestations: One, that they do not have private insurance; two, that they are paying out of pocket for the dental care; and three, that they have booked a dental appointment. Receipts will need to be saved in case CRA later decides to do an audit.

The grant will give households under $70,000 with a maximum of $650 tax-free for each child under age 12 for dental care. Households with an income between $70,000 to $90,000 would receive a lesser amount. The government estimates 500,000 children would qualify for the dental grant, at a yearly cost to taxpayers of $938 million.

Conservative MP and House Leader Andrew Scheer told the House of Commons that the relief will fuel rising inflation.

“Don’t pour water on that grease fire. No more inflationary spending that will make the problem even worse,” he said on Oct. 27.

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Marnie Cathcart is a reporter based in Edmonton.

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