NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says it’s ‘ridiculous’ that Tory MPs are voting against a proposed dental benefit for children from low-income families when they have much more comprehensive dental coverage for their own family.
“Tory MPs plan to vote against providing dental care to children when their leader has had state-paid dental care for nearly two decades,” Singh said Wednesday, referring to Pierre Poilievre, MP since 2004. .
The Conservatives announced they would oppose Bill C-31, which would provide a benefit of up to $650 per child under 12 in families with incomes below $90,000. Last week, the party attempted to pass a motion in the House of Commons that guts the bill.
Singh says the benefit is intended to be a first step toward a broader national dental program that the NDP has demanded as a condition to continue to keep the Liberal government in power until 2025. He predicted the program would be expanded d ‘by the end of next year to include older people, people aged 18 and under and people with disabilities.
Unlike the benefits provided, MPs of all parties are automatically enrolled in the Public Service Dental Care Plan which provides 90% coverage for basic dental services, up to $2,500 per family member per year .
The plan, which also covers federal government employees and members of the RCMP, provides an additional 50% coverage for orthodontics, up to a lifetime maximum of $2,500 per family member.
Members’ dental insurance premiums are paid by the House of Commons.
Rather than launching a new program, the Conservatives say the government should instead focus on reducing the overall cost of living by reducing payroll deductions and carbon tax. They also say the bill is an unwelcome intrusion into provincial and territorial jurisdiction over health care delivery.
“This is not a dental care program and the federal government should not provide services without consulting the provinces,” Conservative health critic Michael Barrett said Wednesday. He said the government should focus on longer-term provincial health funding rather than launching its own dental program.
Barrett points out that most provinces and territories already provide dental coverage for children from low-income families.
The maximum income allowed to qualify under most provincial plans is much lower than the proposed federal plan. And provincial programs do not cover the full range of services that MPs and their families receive under the public service plan.
In Ontario, the Healthy Smiles program provides coverage for children under age 17, but for a family with two children, eligibility is limited to those with an annual income of less than $26,817.
Caught in the middle are working parents who don’t have private dental coverage through their jobs and don’t qualify for provincial plans because their incomes exceed the threshold.
“A lot of people are slightly above that income level and therefore don’t qualify for these programs, but their family incomes are still too low to get by, let alone be able to afford dental care,” said Ottawa dentist Shahrouz Yazdani.
Reimbursement rates for dentists who provide services under Ontario’s plan are so low that some can’t afford to take on patients, Yazdani said.
“Our office accepts them, but we can only do it a limited number of times a month because it’s not financially viable.”
Quebec provides some dental services to children under age 10, while Alberta offers means-tested children’s dental coverage with lower thresholds than those established in C-31.
The proposed federal dental benefit differs from conventional private insurance in that eligible families are not required to submit a receipt and need only sign a statement to collect the $650 payment.