Millions of uninsured Canadians will be left out of the new federal dental program because their family income is too high, says a report released Wednesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Enrolment began last month for a new federal benefits program, which was developed as a condition of a political pact between the Liberal government and the NDP.
It will see the federal government offer dental benefits to uninsured families with a household income under $90,000 per year, starting with seniors, children under the age of 18 and people with disabilities.
When the program is fully implemented in 2025, the government anticipates the coverage will be available to roughly nine million people. But another 4.4 million individuals who don't have dental benefits of their own will be excluded because of the income cap, the report says.
It would cost $1.45 billion to extend the coverage to people whose income exceeds the cap in 2025, on top of the $3.3 billion already budgeted for in the program that year. The report, authored by David Macdonald, a senior economist for the think tank, argues that $90,000 is not a particularly large income for a family with two parents and children.
"Earning $45,000 for each parent isn’t a tremendous salary in Canada. But making more than that precludes those families from receiving federal dental care coverage."
The report argues that a universal program wouldn't leave anyone out at all.
NDP health critic Don Davies, who has worked closely with the Liberals on the new dental care policy, said in a statement his party would ideally like to see the coverage expanded.
"This is a momentous step forward and it will be life-changing for many. However, we have always been clear that this is a first step — a down payment — on universal access and that more must be done," Davies said in the statement.
Davies is also collaborating with the government on the legislative framework for medical drug coverage for Canadians. In the case of pharmacare, the NDP has insisted the coverage must be single-payer and universal, unlike the dental care program.
Expanding dental care alongside the same principles will be a focus for the NDP in the next election, he said.
"New Democrats will not stop until every Canadian can access the dental care they need regardless of their ability to pay," he said.
Health Minister Mark Holland's office did not directly address Macdonald's concerns when contacted for a statement Wednesday, but said the new program is intended to ease the financial barrier to accessing dental health care.
"The Canadian Dental Care Plan is going to make life better for millions of Canadians, so they won’t have to choose between paying their bills and getting oral health care," a spokesperson said in a statement.
Ottawa plans to gradually enrol eligible participants in the new program over the next 12 months.
The first program members are expected to be able to start claiming dental care expenses in May, though the exact coverage date will vary from person to person.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2024.