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Dental care program accepting claims for 1 million seniors

OTTAWA — More than 1,200 seniors have already visited a dentist and had their claims processed by the federal government's new dental care plan, the Liberals announced Wednesday.
The first seniors to register with the new federal dental care plan can now start submitting claims. Dental instruments are shown in Oakville, Ont., Wednesday, April 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Staff

OTTAWA — More than 1,200 seniors have already visited a dentist and had their claims processed by the federal government's new dental care plan, the Liberals announced Wednesday.

The first one million seniors who registered for the program received their benefits card and became eligible to make claims under the program on May 1.

Citizens' Services Minister Terry Beech said the first patient was seen at 7:08 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

He announced the opening of a web portal where qualifying seniors over the age of 65 who don't have insurance can apply for coverage.

"More than 13,000 individuals have already signed up this morning, meaning that I can share that now 1.9 million Canadians are enrolled in the Canada dental care plan," he said at a press conference Wednesday. 

The government started enrolling seniors late last year. Kids under the age of 18 and people who receive the disabilities tax credit, will be eligible to enrol next month.

So far patients can only access services that don't require pre-approval, and they may still need to pay out of pocket for some of the bill if the government doesn't cover the full cost of the treatment.

"Patients should confirm the amount that is not covered by the (program) and that they will need to pay directly to their provider," Health Canada warned in a press release.

Until July, patients also need to visit an oral health provider that has enrolled with the government.

Health Minister Mark Holland recently announced he plans to change the requirement for dentists to register, based on feedback he heard dentists and other providers.

Health Canada said 6,500 oral health providers, including dentists, hygienists and denturists, have signed up to provide care to patients enrolled in the federal dental plan.

A recent survey by the Canadian Dental Association of 4,000 dentists across Canada shows that 61% would not participate in the program in its current state.

Procurement Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who previously served as health minister, said the dentists qualms have since been laid to rest.

"All of their concerns have been addressed," he said at a press conference Wednesday. Starting this summer, dentists won't have to fully enrol in the program to treat patients covered by the program, for example.

But the association said its members still have reservations.

"Significant gaps remain to adequately address the needs of patients and dentists," the association's president Dr. Joel Antel said in a statement.

He said dentists need more information about the terms and conditions that dentists need to agree to, how benefits will be co-ordinated under provincial programs, and what level of services will be preauthorized.

The program was conceived as part of a co-operative political pact between the Liberals and the New Democrats.

Once it is fully rolled out, the program should be available to anyone without private insurance with a family income under $90,000.

The government estimates that will mean coverage for as many as nine million people, making the program the largest benefit program in Canada's history.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024. 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press