OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada: Enrolments have begun for the ambitious Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP), which aims to provide millions of uninsured and lower-income Canadians with access to dental care. An estimated one-third of people in Canada do not have access to dental services, owing to a lack of insurance and inequitable access to oral care for people with disabilities and those living in remote areas. Despite a multipronged approach that will see the federal government invest billions of dollars, critics have said that the plan does not go far enough.
Being introduced in three phases, the income-tested revamp began in late 2022 with cash transfers to families whose children aged under 12 years received dental treatment. The second phase began this year in the form of an incremental co-payment-based plan that covers children younger than 18 years, seniors and people with disabilities, and the first benefits are expected to be paid out in May. The third phase will extend enrolment to all Canadians who meet the criteria, and the government expects to have the plan fully rolled out in 2025.
Individuals must have an annual household income of less than C$90,000 (€61,000) and no private dental insurance in order to qualify for enrolment. Those with a household income of below C$70,000 will have the full cost of their treatment covered, and co-payments of 40% and 60% of dental bills will apply to those with a household income of between C$70,000 and C$79,000 and of between C$80,000 and C$89,000, respectively.
Information from Health Canada explains that the CDCP covers preventive, diagnostic and restorative dental services as well as endodontic, prosthodontic, periodontal and oral surgery services. It is set to cost the federal government C$13 billion (€8.9 billion) over the next five years and C$4.4 billion annually after that. An additional spend of C$250 million over three years, beginning in 2025, is earmarked for the creation of an oral access fund, which will finance measures addressing equity of access to dental services for vulnerable populations and those living in rural and remote areas.
When the plan was announced last year, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, then minister of health, pointed out that the CDCP would be larger than any other hitherto government benefit programme in Canada, serving children, people with disabilities and seniors. “With this programme, we will help make sure that nobody in Canada has to choose between taking care of their teeth and paying their bills at the end of the month,” Duclos said.
Missing Teeth says millions will be left uninsured
Hailed as a step towards universal public dental care in Canada, the plan was commended by the country’s largest labour organisation, the Canadian Labour Congress. Its president, Bea Bruske, said in a December press release that “Public programmes like dental care help to alleviate some of the pressures facing working-class families as they struggle to find an affordable place to live, put food on the table or simply afford everyday necessities.” Bruske emphasised that the CDCP must be inclusive and accessible. However, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the CDCP’s income threshold will exclude millions of Canadians.
“Public programmes like dental care help to alleviate some of the pressures facing working-class families”—Bea Bruske, Canadian Labour Congress
The research institute’s Missing Teeth report, published in January, found that the third phase of the CDCP will extend dental insurance to just 66% of those who currently lack it. Those without dental insurance and with family incomes over C$90,000 number 4.4 million, the report found.
“A C$45,000 salary for each parent in a two-parent household isn’t a king’s ransom in Canada,” David Macdonald, senior economist at the CCPA, commented in a press release, adding that 59% of Canadian families with children earn over C$90,000.
“The federal government could close this gaping loophole by adding an estimated C$1.45 billion to the dental care plan and eliminating the income cap,” the CCPA said.