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In an effort to convince dentists, Ottawa is changing billing for dental plans

In an effort to convince dentists, Ottawa is changing billing for dental plans

OTTAWA — In an effort to convince dentists who have been reluctant to join the federal dental health plan, the health minister announced Monday that dentists can now take a first crack at the program before fully committing.

OTTAWA — In an effort to convince dentists who have been reluctant to join the federal dental health plan, the health minister announced Monday that dentists can now take a first crack at the program before fully committing.

The change was first announced in April after dental associations raised concerns about the program’s design and their members being slow to sign up to provide care.

“It is essential that every health care provider in the country is connected,” Health Minister Mark Holland said at a news conference in Nova Scotia on Monday.

So far, just under 50 percent of dental professionals in Canada have signed up, he said.

According to Holland, Nova Scotia is particularly “lagging behind” when it comes to attracting dentists, especially in rural and remote areas.

He said while enrollment is increasing, he hopes the new process will lead to more dentists accepting the new government coverage.

The program was a condition of the Liberals’ political pact with the New Democrats and is intended for uninsured people with a family income of less than $90,000 a year.

For months, dentists have voiced concerns about the program’s impact on their businesses. The government has adjusted the program accordingly, but last month Holland suggested that dental associations were “actively looking” for problems.

The final change would allow dentists to submit claims on a one-time basis without having to formally enroll as a provider under the program. The change would give providers the freedom to participate without having to register.

Holland claims that once they try it, they will notice how simple and easy it is to get involved.

But the new process doesn’t address the core of dentists’ concerns because they still have to agree to the same terms no matter what, said Dr. Joel Antel, president of the Canadian Dental Association.

“It doesn’t really change anything,” said Antel, who is not participating in the program as part of his own practice.

“The concerns expressed by the dental associations to the minister related to the very long and complex list of general terms and conditions that significantly disrupt the smooth running of a dental practice.”

According to Antel, dental associations are particularly concerned about the government’s ability to reassess claims at a later date.

Holland said the terms are fairly standard and that the audits are only conducted if there is a suspicion of fraud.

“As with any other agreement, there are conditions. I cannot make them disappear. I would rightly be pilloried if there were no conditions,” he said.

Dental associations have also asked the government to proactively inform patients that their coverage is not free and that they will likely have to pay for some of their care out of pocket.

The Conservative health critic described the programme as “riddled with chaos, backlogs and bureaucracy.”

But Holland stressed that it was a remarkable success.

“Every step forward, every new patient we see, represents a hugely important success,” Holland said. “I think we need to focus on that consistent, steady progress.”

Since coverage began in May, the government has processed nearly 250,000 dental claims for seniors enrolled in the program.

The eligibility for this scheme has recently been expanded and so far approximately 10,000 people with disabilities and 25,000 children have applied for coverage.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2024.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press