TORONTO—The Ontario NDP chose to announce their new $1.2 billion dental plan on Monday just as the government was delivering the Throne Speech for the third session of the 41st provincial parliament.
The proposed plan is aimed at that one-third of the province’s workforce that does not already have coverage under their employee benefits and those on Ontario Works or Ontario Disability, as well as seniors whose own benefits ran out when they turned 65.
“This is something that Ontarians have been telling us that they need,” said Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha. “Many people have come into my office seeking help to cover the cost of dental treatment.”
NDP leader Andrea Horwath spoke with journalists via teleconference call on Monday, where she highlighted the announced plan and answered questions.
“This is a plan we are confident we can implement,” said Ms. Horwath, who said it was primarily designed to prevent the “horrifying decisions parents of kids have to make on delaying their children’s checkups” or delay having work done because of the cost.
“No one should have to live in pain,” she told reporters. “No one should go years without a visit to the dentist because they are a part-time worker or a contract worker or because they’re retired.”
The NDP leader noted that doctors have told her that one in every three minutes someone is coming into the province’s emergency rooms with mouth pain issues. “Our plan solves this,” she said.
Ms. Horwath noted that two thirds of the province’s workers are already covered under their employee benefits and that the NDP plan is not seeking to change that part of the equation but rather seeks to provide an option for the other third.
The plan, which has a two-year implementation and is expected to be in place, should the NDP form the next government, by 2020.
Under the plan, those earning under $30,000 and those receiving government assistance would be covered by the plan, with a phase-in on a sliding scale for those earning between $30,000 and $50,000. The plan would not cover those earning over $50,000. The plan for low-income workers would be on a co-pay system. “Similar to what is out there now,” said Ms. Horwath. Where most plans cover 80 percent of costs, the NDP would be on a 25 to 75 percent basis. Ms. Horwath said that the cost would amount to “about $4 a week.”
Under the plan, businesses will be given the option of participating in the public Ontario Benefits program or a comparable private workplace benefits plan. The plan would be free for anyone earning less than $30,000 a year, but the most anyone would have to contribute off their paycheque to cover the employees’ portion of the mandatory plan would be $4.33 a week.
The NDP leader was adamant that the plan would not cause a decrease in current employee benefit plans. “We do not expect to see plans slide in the opposite direction,” she said.
Ms. Horwath said that the NDP plan would also include increased accessibility measures, with an expansion of community health centres, “aboriginal health centres as well,” she said. Seven dental health buses would bring dental care to communities that currently do not have a local dentist—likely similar to the CNIB’s Eye Van. “We don’t want anyone in our province at all to be without dental care.”
Ms. Horwath said that her party has been in consultation with Chambers of Commerce in designing the plan and that further consultation on implementation would continue as the plan was further fleshed out.
Employers would be carrying the cost of a portion of the new dental plan, which would see roughly one percent added to payroll costs, according to NDP forecasts.
“It will be a two-stream program,” she said. “One stream will involve employers through the new Ontario Benefits program and the second will deal with social assistance.”
The employee reimbursement would come through application. “We are hoping to have reimbursements on a more regular basis than one-year,” she said. “Seniors and social assistance recipients would be able to access services through their OHIP card and the upfront costs would be directly reimbursed to the service provider.”
Ms. Horwath said that the $1.2 billion price tag on the plan does not take into account the potential savings from diverted emergency room and doctors’ visits. “There will be considerable savings to be had there as well.”