Making Dental Care More Affordable?
November 8, 2023
The interim Canada Dental Benefit is a recent initiative by the Canadian government aimed at reducing dental costs for eligible families, particularly for parents and guardians of children under 12 who do not have private dental insurance and whose family income is less than $90,000 annually. This program is intended as part of the government’s effort to address gaps in dental care, acknowledging that a significant portion of Canadians—about one-third—lack dental insurance and thus are more likely to forgo dental care due to costs.
However, a further look at the program highlights potential gaps and inequities, particularly the concern that the program’s design may not be responsive enough to changing financial circumstances, such as job loss or family separations.
We’ve seen this a lot from the government lately, most notably with rushed COVID programs. A quick and often uninformed program, that is complicated to understand eligibility and/or apply for. Furthermore, the requirement for families to first apply to other plans and face potential rejection before qualifying for federal support is seen as a cumbersome process that delays access to benefits. There is also confusion regarding eligibility for additional payments, which complicates the verification process and may lead to repayment demands from families who cannot produce the required documents.
One of the more pointed criticisms is that individuals already on a health plan may not be eligible, given the stipulation that the child’s dental care cannot be covered under another plan. This will likely create confusion and potentially discourage those who need the assistance but are uncertain about their eligibility due to existing coverage.
Then there’s the headache for payroll administrators. The implementation of this benefit will necessitate updates on reporting requirements for T4s and T4As, that now must gather each recipient’s dental coverage details and report the type of coverage on their T-slips. But dop they even have access to this information?
Eligibility for the benefit is contingent on families receiving the Canada Child Benefit, and they must have filed taxes for the previous year. The benefit is calculated based on the family’s net income, with a maximum of $1,300 available over two years per eligible child. Applications can be made through the Canada Revenue Agency’s My Account system (which itself has difficulties accessing), and there is a dedicated phone line for those who cannot apply online.
The need for improved dental care access is underscored by statistics showing that a lack of dental insurance is a widespread issue in Canada. Over one-third of Canadians have reported not having any dental insurance, with a significant number avoiding dental visits due to cost concerns, highlighting this necessity of such government initiatives. The disparities are even more pronounced among various equity-seeking groups, indicating a broad spectrum of need across the population.
Individuals were first able to apply for the Canada Dental Benefit starting from the opening of the application portal by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which coincided with the legislative passage of the benefit. The first benefit period for dental care was between October 2022 and June 2023, during which eligible families could apply for up to $650 per eligible child.
There is no impact on taxes related to this application, so in theory, it can be applied for without the assistance of professionals.