Liberals consider temporary solution to dental promise: sources

OTTAWA — Sources close to the $5 proposed by the government.

OTTAWA — Sources familiar with the government’s proposed $5.3 billion dental plan say the Liberals are considering a temporary solution of giving money directly to patients to fulfill their promise to the NDP while they are working on a permanent response.

The Liberals promised the NDP a new dental program for low- and middle-income families in March as part of a supply and confidence agreement to prevent an election before 2025.

The government has until the end of the year to provide some kind of coverage for children under 12 whose annual household income is less than $90,000.

The NDP has pledged to walk away from the deal if the deadline is not met.

Four sources familiar with the government’s plan, but who are not authorized to speak publicly, say the government is unlikely to meet its deadline and are considering an interim solution until a permanent incarnation of the program is in place .

Although details are scarce, sources say the temporary solution would be to directly give eligible families the money to fund their dental health services while the government works on a more permanent expanded program.

In a statement, Health Minister staff neither confirmed nor denied the temporary plan, but said they were on track to meet the dental care commitment as set out in the agreement. with New Democrats.

NDP health critic Don Davies also did not address the temporary plan directly, but said in a statement that the party had “identified several ways to ensure target groups can access care. dental care within the identified deadlines”.

The NDP is now pushing for the Liberals to introduce dental legislation when Parliament resumes in the fall, Davies said.

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

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed the health minister’s faith in meeting the deadline last week.

“We are very confident that we can achieve this before the end of the year, as provided for in our agreement,” Singh said at a press conference last Thursday.

The agreement is not prescriptive on how coverage should be achieved, and the government has not yet committed to a particular way of administering the program.

The office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has repeatedly said the department is considering several options to meet its year-end commitment and deadline.

Originally, the NDP envisioned a federal program that would operate similarly to the federal health insurance program for uninsured First Nations and Inuit.

The federal government could also offer money to the provinces and territories to take over, since many already offer similar programs and dental care has traditionally been under their jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the Liberals launched a formal Request for Information (RFI) two weeks ago to members of the insurance industry to explore the role private companies could play in administering the program.

In this RFI, the government indicates that if a contract is awarded, the winning company will have six months to prepare before dealing with claims. This deadline would be impossible to meet before the end of December.

According to the Duclos staff statement, they are still consulting on the best way forward.

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

“It’s no surprise that the Trudeau government is failing to deliver on its commitment to buy NDP support,” Conservative health critic Michael Barrett said in a statement.

Barrett said Canadians should be concerned that the government is not committed to maintaining the current health care system, “much less adding a complex and costly new program to it.”

The government has earmarked $5.3 billion over five years for the program, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s estimate is nearly double that at $9 billion.

Once the program is fully implemented, the Liberals’ 2023 budget predicts it will cost about $1.7 billion a year to operate, matching the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s estimate.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 8, 2023.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press