(OTTAWA) NDP health critic Don Davies says dental care for Indigenous people will need to improve if the new federal dental insurance provides better or more accessible services.
The Liberal government has earmarked $13 billion over five years for a national dental program for low- and middle-income Canadians.
This dental insurance is part of the “support and confidence agreement” with the New Democrats to secure their support in the House during votes of confidence.
The federal government already provides dental care to Aboriginal people through the First Nations and Inuit Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program, as well as emergency dental care for refugees.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is taking a close look at this benefit package, which he says is strong, but flawed.
“I’m working with [Indigenous Services Minister] Patty Hajdu, who is responsible for NIHB, to see how we can leverage their experience and lessons to provide a better program for non-Indigenous Canadians, based what we are doing for Indigenous Canadians,” Duclos said in an interview last month.
However, the benefits offered under the future federal dental plan are unlikely to be a carbon copy of what is offered to First Nations and Inuit people, Davies said.
If this new national dental plan is more generous than what is available to Aboriginal people, MP Davies believes the government will need to make improvements to upgrade both programs.
Jan Martin, director of Indigenous relations at the Center for Indigenous Health Services of Southwestern Ontario, points out that dental care is already in need of improvement.
“We’re at the bottom with NIHB,” says Martin.
When it comes to dentures, for example, the federal program only allows them to be replaced every eight years, while many dentists recommend changing them after only five years.
“They do without their dentures. They say their prosthesis hurts because their mouth has changed. They can’t get another pair for five years,” Martin says of some of her clients.
She hopes that the current focus on oral health care will bring about these improvements for Indigenous people.
“They have suffered long enough, our peoples. It has been proven that our health needs are more chronic than the norm,” she argues.
Mr. Duclos has already stressed the importance of preventative care, such as regular cleanings, under the new program.
The dental hygiene practice director for the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association noted that comprehensive prevention is still not included in the benefits offered to First Nations.
“NIHB doesn’t cover much prevention, which is really our focus at this point,” Sylvie Martel said at a press conference in Ottawa last week.
Last year, the president of the Canadian Dental Association told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs that she feared Indigenous peoples were being left behind by the new federal insurance program.
“As it stands, none of this funding targets the approximately one million First Nations and Inuit people in Canada who are eligible for the NIHB program,” Dr. Lynn Tomkins argued last May. .
“This may actually increase significant inequalities in oral health between this group and the general Canadian population,” she added.
The committee also heard that under the uninsured benefits program, some common procedures must be pre-approved, requiring patients to wait for the care they need.
In its final report to Parliament in December, the committee recommended that the government work with First Nations and Inuit partners to review benefits and ensure they are comparable to other dental programs. He also proposed that the approval process be similar.
The new national dental care program is expected to launch before the end of the year, starting with coverage for uninsured people under the age of 18, the elderly and people with disabilities.
It will be available to eligible individuals whose household earns less than $90,000 per year. People with an income of less than $70,000 will not have to pay a copayment.
By 2025, the program should be accessible to all people without private insurance and whose income is below the set threshold.