Tight deadline to implement dental care, but Duclos confident the feds will meet it

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OTTAWA – Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is confident the federal government will be able to get its proposed dental program in place by the end of the year, he said Tuesday. , although his department has yet to establish a model or begin formal talks with the provinces.

As part of a confidence and supply deal with the NDP to avoid an election until 2025, the Liberals have pledged to launch a federal dental program for low- and middle-income children before the end of the year and aim to expand its eligibility over the next few years.

The government has earmarked $5.3 billion over five years for the program and says it will start by covering children under 12 with household incomes below $90,000 who are otherwise uninsured. by the end of 2022.

Duclos admits the deadline is tight, but he is confident the government will meet the deadline.

“We will make every effort to meet this commitment and therefore to fulfill our promise to Canadians,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

“The actual path that will be followed in the relatively short term, given that this deadline is rapidly approaching, will be shared soon.”

Several models have been proposed by experts, Duclos said, but the government is not ready to announce which direction it intends to go.

Dental care has traditionally been the domain of the provinces and the provinces, along with several stakeholder groups, have urged Ottawa to simply transfer the money to existing health care systems to run the program.

Several provinces say they have not yet had formal talks with the federal government, even though the deadline for the Liberal-NDP agreement is now less than six months away.

Federal officials had very early discussions with the provinces and territories, Duclos’ office said in a statement, and they expect more formal discussions to take place in the coming months.

Provincial and territorial leaders gathered in Victoria on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the state of health of their health care systems and call on the federal government to show leadership on the issue.

Prior to these meetings, Canadian Dental Association President Dr. Lynn Tomkins wrote a letter to Premiers encouraging them to talk about working with the federal government to strengthen existing provincial programs.

“The federal government could ensure rapid, efficient and targeted implementation of these new investments in dental care and avoid the confusion of patients and providers having to coordinate two levels of dental coverage,” Tomkins wrote to provincial leaders last week. .

In many provinces, however, dental care is unlikely to be a priority given the state of health care in general, said Charles Breton, executive director of the Center of Excellence on Canadian Federation at the Research Institute. in public policies.

“There’s an urgency to health care in the sense that it’s a much bigger aspect of their budget,” Breton said. “I don’t feel that kind of public pressure on dental care. Not that it’s not important. It’s important, but I don’t see the same kind of public pressure on it.

As the meetings unfolded, the British Columbia Ministry of Health suggested in a statement that the province wanted to address the current health care crisis before discussing new services.

“A new vision for health care must include a significant, long-term increase in federal funding for the Canada Health Transfer,” the ministry statement said.

The sentiment is also shared in Alberta.

“We would rather see the federal government focus on being a better funding partner, rather than creating new programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction, which could displace existing public and private coverage,” Steve said. Buick, provincial press secretary to the Minister of Health.

Still, he said Alberta would rather use federal dollars to fund its own dental programs than risk duplicating efforts with the federal government.

Alternatively, the government could take advice from other oral health groups like the Denturists Association of Canada and develop a stand-alone insurance program, as the NDP originally envisioned when it struck the deal. .

“Different provinces do things differently, so I think from a national perspective we’re looking for a federal program because it’s a set of rules and a set of guidelines,” said the association’s chief executive, Mallory Potter, in an interview on Tuesday.

“It sort of eliminates the unnecessary confusion and bureaucracy that is associated with many provincially run programs.

She cautioned, however, that liberals should be realistic about how long it will take to get it right.

“There was currently a public feeling that this program was going to be rolled out much sooner than we all realistically think,” she said.

She said some people are postponing important dental and oral health appointments in hopes that their treatment will soon be covered by the federal government.

That means there’s more risk in missing the federal deadline than the deal the Liberals made with the NDP. The health of many Canadians is also at stake, Potter said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 12, 2022.

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