A proposal in the new Liberal-NDP deal to create a national dental program for low-income Canadians could lead to the biggest expansion of Canada’s public health care system in decades.
“It’s a matter of dignity,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday. “It will make a huge difference to people’s health and quality of life.”
The agreement to create a dental care program is part of the new Liberal-NDP ‘supply and confidence’ agreement. The deal will see New Democrats backing the minority Liberal government on confidence votes through 2025 in exchange for action on several NDP priorities.
The NDP campaigned on the promise of a national dental plan in both of Singh’s leadership elections, but previous Liberal governments never moved forward on the plan.
Here’s what we know so far about the dental plan — how it would work, how much it would cost and what effect it could have on the estimated 6.5 million Canadians who don’t have dental insurance currently.
How would the program work?
Under the program, families with an annual income of less than $90,000 who do not have dental insurance would be eligible for coverage.
Anyone earning less than $70,000 a year would also not have to pay copayments — the flat fee that may otherwise be charged each time someone makes a claim. Dental costs would be fully covered by the government for any individual or family with an income below $70,000.
The proposal is almost identical to the political plank of the NDP’s platforms for the 2019 and 2021 elections.
The system would operate on the model of private insurance plans. The plan does not include specific investments in health care infrastructure or for workers to meet the needs of dental patients.
It is estimated that approximately 6.5 million Canadians are eligible for the plan. This figure is expected to decline slightly to 6.3 million by 2025 due to changing demographics and improving labor market conditions.
When would it start?
The plan is to be phased in over three years before the Liberal-NDP agreement expires in 2025.
As of the end of the year, children under the age of 12 would become eligible for the program.
In 2023, coverage would be extended to 18-year-olds, seniors and people with disabilities.
The program would be fully implemented by 2025 according to the proposed schedule.
Laura Tamblyn Watts, founder and CEO of seniors’ advocacy group CanAge, said the scheme would make a “huge difference” in the lives of seniors who don’t have coverage and can’t afford to support themselves. pay for dental care.
“Older people desperately need access to dental care that we currently don’t have on a consistent basis across the country,” she said.
Watts said Canadian seniors without dental coverage often turn to hospital emergency rooms when they have dental issues.
“We know that ERs are overwhelmingly the dentists of older people in the country and that shouldn’t be the case,” she said.
How much would that cost?
The price could be revealed in the federal budget due in early April, but previous NDP proposals have already been reviewed and costed.
An analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2020 estimated the cost of a similar program at $1.3 billion in the year after the plan was announced, and $4.3 billion in the plan’s first year of operation. The program would then cost about $1.5 billion per year until 2025.
The much higher cost in the first year of the program is based on the expectation that people with unmet dental needs will seek care when they become eligible.
But the new proposal calls for the program to be phased over several years, which could alter previous cost projections.
“While it will cost a bit more initially, it will ultimately save money and make life more affordable,” said Atkinson Fellow Economist Armine Yalnizyan on the future of workers.
“I know people are going to say, ‘Why are we spending money?’ But that’s being a penny wise and a pound stupid.”
Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said the deal between the Liberals and NDP would lead to reckless spending in this time of economic uncertainty.
“I have been told by some Liberals that they are very worried about the economic direction under the government of Justin Trudeau,” she said Tuesday. “I can’t imagine how they feel now that they have a government led by Jagmeet Singh in charge.”