Dental Care Program |  The Liberals are considering an interim solution

Dental Care Program | The Liberals are considering an interim solution

(OTTAWA) Sources close to the federal government’s proposed $5.3 billion dental program say Liberals are considering a temporary solution that would see money paid directly to patients to fulfill the promise , given to the NDP while they work on a more permanent response.

Updated yesterday at 6:22pm.

Split

Laura Osman The Canadian Press

The Liberals promised the New Democratic Party (NDP) a new dental care program for low- and middle-income families last March under a “support and confidence deal” to allow the minority Liberal government to stay in office until 2025, if possible.

The government has until the end of the year to offer any form of coverage to children under 12 with family incomes under $90,000, or the NDP has promised to pull out of the deal.

Four sources familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak say the government is unlikely to meet the deadline and is planning an interim solution until the program is finalized.

Although details are sketchy, sources say this temporary solution would be to directly pay eligible families the money needed to fund their dental care while the government works on a more permanent, expanded scheme.

In a written statement, the office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos neither confirmed nor denied the establishment of an interim plan. However, it was reported that the department was on track to meet the government’s commitment to dental coverage as outlined in the New Democrats’ agreement.

NDP health critic Don Davies also didn’t address this “interim plan” directly, but said in a written statement his party had “identified several avenues to ensure target groups have timely access to dental care.”

The NDP will now focus on urging the Liberals to introduce a dental care bill when Parliament resumes in the autumn, Davies said.

“This bill will provide the resources needed to help children under the age of 12 see a dentist and care for their teeth starting this year,” he said.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh last week reiterated the health secretary’s pledge to meet the deadline. “We are very confident that we can achieve this before the end of the year as envisaged in our agreement,” Mr Singh told a news conference on Thursday.

Privately managed?

The policy agreement does not specify how coverage will be provided, and the government has not yet committed to a specific way of administering the dental program.

Minister Duclos’ office has repeatedly stated that the department is considering several scenarios to meet its year-end commitments and targets.

Originally, the NDP wanted a federal program that would function in the same way as the federal First Nations and Inuit Non-Insured Health Benefits program.

Ottawa could also offer provinces and territories money to adopt this program, as several already offer similar programs — and dental care has traditionally fallen under their constitutional jurisdiction.

For its part, the Liberal government two weeks ago issued an official “request for information” to members of the insurance industry to explore the role the private sector could play in administering the federal program.

In the RFI, which ends Aug. 22, the government says if a contract is awarded, the winning company has six months to prepare before it can process claims. This deadline would therefore not be met before the end of December target foreseen in the agreement.

According to Mr Duclos’ staff, senior officials are still deliberating on the best course of action.

The Liberals have promised to expand the program to eligible teens, seniors and people with disabilities next year, and then to everyone else in the eligible family-income bracket by the end of the deal with the newcomers. Democrats, in 2025.

The government has earmarked $5.3 billion over five years for this program, but Parliament’s budget officer estimates that amount would be more like double, or $9 billion.

Once the program is fully implemented, the government’s most recent budget projects it will cost about $1.7 billion per year to operate, which is in line with the estimate by Parliament’s budget officer.