Like pulling teeth: The Canada Dental Care Plan is not good enough

The new Canada Dental Care Plan is subpar compared to what Canadians deserve.

Pop quiz: what proportion of Canadians live without dental insurance? How many avoid the dentist because of the cost? The answer is 35 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively. It’s a travesty that our single-payer, publicly-funded health care system doesn’t cover oral health care — particularly preventive services. And unfortunately, the new Canada Dental Care Plan (CDCP) is a lacklustre attempt at providing coverage. 

On December 11, 2023, Canada’s federal government unveiled the new CDCP for eligible Canadians. Eligible individuals are those with a net income of less than $90,000 dollars and without private dental insurance. The Canada Dental Benefit covers children already, and the government aims to have all eligible Canadians into the program by 2025. 

However, students, despite typically being of limited income, are not currently eligible as most have coverage under their universities. Coverage provided by the University of Alberta is, frustratingly, meager for both undergraduate and graduate students. 

As well, the CDCP does not cover all oral health care services, such as cosmetic services. It also neglects some more important procedures, such as surgical procedures, dentures, bridges, and mouth guards. Additionally, the plan will only cover services up to a set maximum fee — the government merely encourages service providers to follow the CDCP fee guide.

Co-payments will go up according to income, as well. This means that individuals with an income under $70,000 will have 100 per cent of eligible costs covered, according to the CDCP fee guide. However, if you make between $70,000 and $79,999, the CDCP will cover only 60 per cent of costs.

It is important to note that regardless of income, additional charges may have to be covered by the patient. This means that your dental care provider can charge more than what the CDCP covers (as is currently the case under Alberta’s fee guide). With this in mind, I am concerned that charging over the recommended fee will become the rule rather than the exception.

Frankly, I am quite tired of our government enabling profit-seeking in health care, which is the unfortunate norm.

The 1984 Canada Health Act should define dental care as a necessary service. Publicly-funded dental care should cover everyone, just as with surgeries, cancer treatments, and emergency room visits. Our current tiered system allows providers to charge more, leaves some services uncovered, and omits certain people from coverage. The CDCP is an insult. Our teeth are not luxury bones.

I am not satisfied with the CDCP, but I am happy that this step in health care exists. Even if it doesn’t include everyone, even if it is being administered through a private insurance company, and even if it is not entirely comprehensive. 

The reason for my irritation is that although the CDCP is a policy that provides better coverage, it does not go far enough. Seemingly, the government did this to avoid upsetting the private insurance industry too much. It feels like a rather tiny band-aid on the deteriorating Canadian health-care system. 

Provincial, usually conservative, governments continuously cut public health-funding, antagonize and bully health-care personnel and support staff, and have allowed brazen efforts at offering privatized services. The COVID-19 pandemic especially laid bare the result of decades of cuts to public health spending, and has left public health in an even worse state than it was before 2020. 

Despite my frustrations, I am cautiously optimistic that this is a first-step in bolstering Canada’s health-care system. Hopefully, the Canada Pharmacare Act, which is currently stalled in parliament, will follow the CDCP. This act would cover prescription drugs to improve and expand coverage across the country. Such measures are at least a step in the right direction.

Our health-care system should cover all health care, full stop. However, efforts to destabilize public health care and pandering to private businesses makes truly universal coverage an impossibility. 

Health-care policy is difficult to design, and I am not pretending that it is. Nor am I so naive to suggest that new policies won’t result in spats between the provinces and Ottawa. But, high-quality, publicly-funded, and state-administered universal health care — although not cheap — pays off in the long-run. It is the best option.

Canadians should be angry. Nay, furious. We all deserve better than what we are getting when it comes to health and dental care, and we should demand more than what we are receiving.

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