(OTTAWA) The federal government now expects many more Canadians with longstanding dental needs to enroll in its insurance plan.

The Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, speaks of an estimated cost which has increased by 7 billion.

In its 2023 budget tabled last Tuesday, the government revealed that the national insurance scheme will cost significantly more over the next five years than it initially thought.

The Liberal government also projects that thereafter, ongoing costs will more than double, to $4.4 billion per year, compared to $1.7 billion previously.

Minister Duclos said it was not administration costs that drove up costs, but rather the fact that “more people have greater needs.”

Dentists could end up seeing up to nine million more patients who didn’t have coverage before, according to new estimates.

Justin Trudeau said many Canadians don’t earn enough to afford dental care, but earn too much to qualify for provincial low-income programs.

“We want to close this gap for Canadian workers,” the prime minister said Friday morning at a press conference in Moncton.

The program is designed for people who are not covered by insurance and whose family income is less than $90,000 per year. Families earning less than $70,000 will not need to pay a copayment.

Minister Duclos stresses that this program is more important than any other permanent government benefit program to date.

“It’s twice as big as Old Age Security, it’s bigger than the Canada Child Benefit in terms of the number of families and children, it’s bigger than the Guaranteed Income Supplement, more important than the child care program we are putting in place,” he said.

Dental care is the centerpiece of the Support and Confidence Agreement the Liberals signed with the New Democratic Party (NDP) in March 2022. New Democrats then pledged to vote with the government on key issues in the Commons to prevent an election before 2025, in exchange for government concessions on certain NDP priorities.

The agreement included a timeline to launch the dental care program by the end of this year for low-income and uninsured children under 18, the elderly and people with disabilities. Full implementation is expected by 2025.

Within two weeks of signing the deal, the Liberal government tabled a budget that included federal dental care. Jean-Yves Duclos said more work had been done since then, to get a better idea of ​​the cost.

According to him, the government has realized that demand will be higher than expected by seeing the use of dental benefits for children under 12 this year.

The Liberal government expected the temporary benefit to go to about 500,000 children between October 1, 2022 and June 30, 2024. But the government has already earmarked 240,000 checks to reimburse families.

The plan is to replace this benefit with a comprehensive program for those eligible by the end of the year, but Minister Duclos and his team still have a lot of details to work out.

The ultimate goal is to provide coverage to people who do not yet have insurance, without disrupting the patchwork of provincial and private plans across Canada.

Minister Duclos says he is well aware of the possibility that low- and middle-income people could simply opt out of their plan at work in favor of free government coverage. “There will be mechanisms and management exercises that will be in place to ensure that the federal program must be complementary to existing coverage. »

Individuals covered by a plan with their employer will not be eligible for the federal program. The government will require employers to report to the Canada Revenue Agency which employees have existing coverage, so they cannot combine the two.

On the other hand, people covered by a provincial plan could benefit from both provincial and federal coverage. “We will be open to complete partial coverage of provinces and territories,” said Minister Duclos.

The next major hurdle for the government before it can roll out the program on a large scale is figuring out who will handle claims. A call for proposals will be launched in June.