The New Democrats and Liberals are at odds over the rollout of the new federal dental plan after the government announced it won’t fully expand eligibility until 2025 — contrary to the pact it signed with the NDP.
The dental-care plan eventually will cover all uninsured Canadians with an annual household income under $90,000. It’s one of the main pillars of a Liberal deal with the NDP intended to prevent an election before 2025.
The deal calls for the program to be fully implemented by the end of the year, but on Wednesday, the government announced registration wouldn’t begin for most adults between the ages of 18 and 65 until next year.
The announcement runs contrary to assurances NDP health critic Don Davies said he received from the health minister just last week.
“I got a clear answer that it would begin before the end of 2024,” he said.
Davies said the pact between the two parties is “crystal clear” about when the program is supposed to be implemented.
“So we expect enrolment to begin for everybody this year,” he said.
The minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the assurances Davies was given.
So far, more than 400,000 people have begun the enrolment process to join the federal plan, which is set to start accepting claims in May.
Enrolment is now open to people over the age of 72 and will expand in May to people aged 65 and up. People with disabilities and children under the age of 18 will be able to apply in June.
“Everyone else who’s eligible can apply online starting in 2025,” Seniors Minister Seamus O’Regan said at a Parliament Hill press conference Wednesday.
When asked about the delay, Health Minister Mark Holland said enrolling up to nine million Canadians in the program is complicated.
“Would I like to get there tomorrow? Yes, but physics and the laws of gravity and reality constrain us, and so our ambition has to be constrained with getting it right,” Holland said.
The enrolment process can be a significant barrier to people, especially those who have never received oral-health care before, he said.
That’s why the government wants to make it as seamless as possible, he said. Right now, for example, wait times to get through to a government call centre to begin the process are “almost instantaneous,” the minister said.
“We have to make sure, as much as we possibly can, that we get it right and that they have a positive experience,” he said.
Davies said Sun Life, the private company contracted to administer the plan, can process up to 500,000 enrolment applications per month and the money for full enrolment has been budgeted already.
“If there’s any deviation from the confidence-and-supply agreement, the NDP will take the government to task over it,” he pledged.