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November 10, 2023

What is the point of having a senior dental program if almost no one qualifies?

November 10, 2023

I have often written in this column how important it is to recognize the immeasurable contribution to our overall way of life by our seniors and those who went even before them. The investment of ingenuity and resolve by generations of our ancestors resulted in economic security and all forms of prosperity, including the arts, science and medicine, education and society, to name just a few. We owe so much to those who came before us.

One of the most treasured pieces of Canada’s social safety net is our universal, publicly funded healthcare system. Built by the generations that preceded us, it is a point of pride for all in our country.

But there is something burdensome on the soul when we look at the incredible contribution of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents and compare it to the struggle and hardship that so many of them experience in their lives today. There is no question that not all seniors enjoy the same prosperity and lifestyle. No matter how we look at it, we are not honouring our commitment to total public healthcare for all.

When discussing healthcare, sheer logic tells us that oral health is a natural part of whole-body health. Without question, true healthcare must include dental care. Without healthy teeth and gums, we can’t eat the nutritious foods we need to enjoy life, not just survive another day.

Like thousands of Ontarians, I was hopeful when the Ford government implemented dental care for seniors. It was part of the puzzle missing for generations. The problem is that the legislation has only taken us part of the way to providing all seniors with access to the dental care they need. So I could not but ask myself why this is so.

I recently read an informative article by Karen Black entitled “Why hasn’t medical care in Canada included teeth.” The article appeared on the TVO Today website on November 9th, 2022. Black explains, “When Canada’s Medicare Act was passed in 1966, only physician services were covered — even though the 1964 Royal Commission on Health Services report (considered the blueprint for Canada’s universal health insurance program) had recommended free dentistry for all children and adults… Dental associations lobbied hard against being included. There was the political reality that dentists, just like physicians at the time, rejected the idea of being conscripted into a national health insurance system.” (click here to read the article.)

Today, there are two major issues which require further consideration. First, seniors must meet a low-income threshold to qualify for dental care. While I can agree that after a program is initially implemented, it should focus on helping those without dental insurance and those who fall within the spectrum of low income. Seniors living on just CPP and OAS will tell you how hard it is to put food on the table and make ends meet month to month. Well, hard that that might be, seniors who apply for the program who live on CPP and OAS find themselves above the qualifying threshold for Ontario senior dental care. And it is the same for those who receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). So, even though such seniors are barely squeaking by on CPP/OAS/GIS, their income is too high. Regulations state that to qualify for the dental program, an Ontario resident must:

  • Be 65 years of age or older.

  • Have an annual income of less than $ 22,200 for a single person or a combined annual net income of $37,100 per couple.

  • Have no access to dental benefits (e.g., through private insurance or other government programs such as the Ontario Disability Support Program or Non-Insured Health Benefits Program).

This gap disrespects our seniors and is unacceptable. We are depriving too many seniors, some of whom are barely able to make ends meet on a good day, of their right to health.

The second problem is that to be accepted by the plan, dentists must register with the Ministry of Health. But, Ontario’s senior dental plan pays much less than the prices listed for dental services. Pure logic asks why a dentist, or any business owner for that matter, would willingly turn down customers who pay the going rates. It is money they need to meet their operating costs, pay staff, purchase equipment and earn a living comparable to their fellow dentists. And even if they are willing to make such a sacrifice, the demand for service under the program far exceeds the supply of participating dentists.

In this government’s most recent economic statement, Premier Ford’s finance minister reported a $2 billion contingency fund, much higher than any reasonable economist would recommend when Ontarians are struggling.

I know I am not the only Ontarian who finds the fact that Doug Ford hears the whispers of profit but is deaf to the cries of those who are suffering entirely repugnant. Ontarians respect and deeply care for our beloved seniors. They have paid their dues, “passed it forward,” and now deserve to reap the benefits of their contributions. What is it going to take to make the Ford government stand up and take the steps necessary to respect and care for our seniors?

The answer to that question is easy. During the pandemic, the government ordered all playgrounds in the province to be shut down until the people told Premier Ford en-masse that he was wrong. Mr. Ford threatened CUPE education workers with back-to-work legislation after they struggled through a decade of government-imposed and nearly frozen wages. But he backed down when Ontarians spoke up and told him his actions weren’t right or fair. And, of course, most recently, Premier Ford reversed his decision on the Greenbelt when Ontarians stood up to him and said what he was doing was not only wrong but unjust.

Ontarians are loving, caring people who know right from wrong. They know what is fair and just. I know this because I hear from and speak with many constituents weekly. We do respect and love our seniors. We want to ensure that their contributions are recognized and that they receive what is truly needed when needed.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.      

Michael Mantha MPP/député      

Algoma-Manitoulin       

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