Canadian Dental Hygienists Association criticizes new federal regime

(Ottawa) The Liberal government is applying double standards when it comes to determining the amount that will be reimbursed to practitioners under the new federal plan, deplores the Canadian Association of Dental Hygienists.

Last week, Health Canada released a guide outlining how much it will pay providers under the National Dental Care Plan, which is expected to provide oral health coverage to millions of low- and middle-income families.

Reimbursement rates vary from province to province, but they show that the federal government expects to pay much less for a cleaning performed in a private hygiene clinic than in a dentist’s office.

“Ideally, we believe a self-employed dental hygienist should be paid the same as a dental hygienist working in a dental office for the same procedures,” said Donna Wells, professional practice manager at the association.

Currently, the difference exceeds 20% in some provinces, she said.

The dispute is just the latest in a series of criticisms from practitioners who warn that low reimbursement rates and heavy administrative burdens threaten the success of the new scheme.

Health Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment and has so far repeatedly refused to specify how many practitioners have signed up to the program, other than to say it is believed to be “thousands.”

The program is a pillar of the Liberals’ political pact with the New Democratic Party and is expected to provide government-sponsored coverage to uninsured families with annual incomes below $90,000.

This project is expected to cost $13 billion over five years and benefit nearly nine million Canadians.

The hygienists’ association says it raised the issue about the payment difference weeks ago, and Mme Wells said she was surprised to see the gap still included in the guides released last week.

“The word discrimination crosses our minds, it comes into our conversations,” she said. The hygienist workforce is made up of 97% women, she noted.

According to her, the rates suggested by provincial associations of dentists and hygienists often indicate that independent hygienists are paid less for the same services, but the federal system widens the gap considerably.

For example, in Manitoba, the program will pay a dentist’s office $62.80 for a cleaning unit, but an independent hygienist will only receive $49.04.

Independent hygienists have the same costs and overhead as a hygienist department in a dental office, Wells, specifying that those who offer mobile services must pay travel costs.

Lower reimbursement means patients will have to pay out of pocket or hygienists will have to absorb the cost.

“It’s not fair to the patient. It’s also not fair for the dental hygienist to have to cover this cost for their business,” she lamented.

Federal Health Minister Mark Holland said last week he expects “massive participation” in the program from dental providers and is considering changes to the registration process for reduce administrative burden.

He also recently warned that the program would not be perfect from the start, but would evolve over time.

source site-61