NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says it’s “ridiculous” that Conservative MPs will vote against a proposed dental benefit for children in low-income families when they enjoy far more comprehensive dental care coverage for their own families.
“Conservative MPs are planning to vote against giving kids dental care when their leader has had publicly-paid dental care for nearly two decades,” Singh said Wednesday, referring to Pierre Poilievre, who has been an MP since 2004.
The Conservatives have signalled they will oppose Bill C-31, which would provide a benefit of up to $650 per child under age 12 in families with incomes lower than $90,000. Last week, the party tried to pass a motion in the House of Commons gutting the legislation.
Singh says the benefit is intended to be a first step towards a broader national dental program that the NDP demanded as a condition of continuing to keep the Liberal government in power until 2025. He predicted the program would be expanded by the end of next year to include seniors, people aged 18 and under and people living with disabilities.
In contrast to the planned benefit, MPs from all parties are automatically enrolled in the Public Service Dental Plan that provides 90 per cent coverage for basic dental services, up to $2,500 per family member annually.
The plan, which also covers federal government employees and RCMP members, provides an additional 50 per cent coverage for orthodontics, to a lifetime maximum of $2,500 per family member.
The MPs’ premiums for the dental insurance are paid by the House of Commons.
Rather than launch a new program, the Conservatives say the government should instead focus on lowering the overall cost of living by reducing payroll deductions and the carbon tax. They also say the bill is an unwanted intrusion into the provincial and territorial jurisdiction over health care delivery.
“It’s not a dental care program and the federal government shouldn’t be delivering services without consultation with the provinces,” said Conservative health critic Michael Barrett on Wednesday. He said the government should focus on providing more long-term health funding to the provinces rather than launch its own dental program.
Barrett points out that most provinces and territories already provide dental care coverage for children in low-income families.
The maximum income allowed to qualify under most provincial plans is far lower than the proposed federal plan. And the provincial programs do not cover the scope of services that MPs and their families enjoy through the public service plan.
In Ontario, the Healthy Smiles program provides coverage to kids under age 17, but for a family with two kids, eligibility is limited to those with below $26,817 annual income.
Caught in the middle are working parents who do not receive private dental coverage through their employment and do not qualify for provincial plans because their incomes exceed the cut-off threshold.
“A lot of people are slightly above that income level so they don’t qualify for these programs but their family incomes are still too low to get by, never mind being able to afford dental care,” said Ottawa dentist Shahrouz Yazdani.
The reimbursement rates for dentists who provide services through the Ontario plan are set so low that some cannot afford to take on patients, Yazdani said.
“Our office does accept them, but we can only do it a limited number of times a month, because it’s not financially sustainable.”
Quebec provides some dental services to children under age 10, while Alberta provides means-tested children’s dental coverage with the cut-off levels below that set out in C-31.
The proposed federal dental benefit differs from conventional private insurance, as qualifying families are not required to submit a receipt and must sign only an attestation to collect the $650 payment.