Landmark Dental Benefit Act passes House of Commons final vote – so, what’s next?
Legislation for the Dental Benefit Act passed its final vote in the House of Commons last week with Liberal, NDP and Green support overcoming opposition from Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois. Bill C-31 now moves to the Senate where it’s expected to pass quickly and receive Royal Assent.
On December 1, 500,000 children under 12 years old in families that earn less than $90k per year could qualify for payments of up to $650 per year in 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 for dental care through the Canada Revenue Agency. No receipts are required, and parents can receive funds in advance of dentist visits to avoid being out-of-pocket.
Bill C-31 is a welcome addition to our health care system, but the Dental Benefit Act is an interim step toward the much fuller and more comprehensive public dental program.
Under the terms of the Liberal-NDP deal signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in March, 2022, Health Canada must continue to implement the public dental program described in the budget.
“Budget 2022 proposes to provide funding of $5.3 billion over five years, starting in 2022-23, and $1.7 billion ongoing, to Health Canada to provide dental care for Canadians. This will start with under 12-year-olds in 2022, and then expand to under 18-year-olds, seniors, and persons living with a disability in 2023, with full implementation by 2025. The program would be restricted to families with an income of less than $90,000 annually, with no co-pays for those under $70,000 annually in income.”Budget 2022
Interestingly, the new public dental program will be a federal program without cooperation from the provinces and territories.
The NDP agrees with the Liberals’ go-it-alone approach to avoid the new program becoming embroiled in federal-provincial wrangling over health care dollars, which might delay its implementation by 2025.
Even still, the party grew frustrated over the summer with the Liberals’ slow progress. When the government and Health Canada officials balked at the ambitious timeline in Budget 2022, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh went to the media to warn the NDP would withdraw its support of the government if the dental program did not roll out this year.
In a compromise, the parties agreed to the interim Dental Benefit Act contained in Bill C-31 as a bridge to the permanent program.
“It’s got to be the full, federally administered program by 2023,” Singh told CTV News. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos concurred with Singh when the legislation was introduced in Parliament, saying, “While this temporary benefit is in place, our government will be taking the necessary steps to build a comprehensive, longer-term dental care program.”
Our Dental Care program passed in Parliament!!— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) October 28, 2022
The Conservatives fought us at every chance — but we didn’t stop pushing and we’re not done fighting. pic.twitter.com/6wyoM9KHwj
NDP Health Critic Don Davies MP (Vancouver Kingsway) told a webinar hosted by the Canadian Health Coalition in August there are several steps required to achieve the full dental program.
Health Canada must determine the scope of the coverage and eligibility, as well as hold a competition between private firms for the contract to run the program. Once awarded, the winning firm will need time to set up the system. Health Canada’s Procurement Department invited companies with experience in administering insurance claims to apply for pre-qualification on October 28, according to reports.
Recalling the WE charity sole-source contract scandal and the Phoenix payroll software disaster, Davies reminded webinar viewers the stakes are high.
The federal government already delivers four dental plans that are paid by public dollars. For example, the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program provides nearly 900,000 registered First Nations and recognized Inuit with health benefits including prescription drugs, dental and vision care.
Davies said the contract with the private company to handle claims for the NIHB is worth $116-million over 8 years. The new public dental program will be much larger and cover between 7 and 9 million people, so it is important to ensure that the program is well-designed and there is a fair tendering process, he added.
Qualifying Canadians will have a federally-provided “Smile Canada” card to pay for a comprehensive range of procedures at their dentist’s office by the end of next year.
Davies said that he would like the program to be the same as visiting your doctor and folded into Medicare. “The NDP will not stop until we have every Canadian covered universally,” Davies added, but noted that change will happen incrementally.
The Canadian Health Coalition urged MPs at the Common Standing Committee on Finance to pass Bill C-31, which includes the Dental Benefit Act, and transform the benefit into a robust program for everyone in Canada, with universal coverage, as soon as possible.