Liberals reverse on proposal affecting dental care for low-income families
Richard J. Brennan
Dec 08 2014
The Liberal government scrambled Monday to reverse a proposal that would have resulted in thousands of children of low-income families being denied preventative dental health services.
“Our government will ensure that no child will lose access to preventive dental services that they are currently eligible to receive,” an email from Health Minister Eric Hoskins’ office stated.
NDP MPP France Gélinas earlier in the day warned that because the Liberal government is proposing to slash income-based eligibility in half, some 15,000 children in Toronto alone will not have access to dental services. This number was supported in an August report from the Toronto Board of Health.
“It is a partial victory,” said Gélinas.
“These are shocking and appalling cuts that strike at the heart of vital public-health services in our province,” she told a news conference at Queen’s Park in the morning.
Gélinas said a single mom with two children making $43,432 can now access dental-health services, but the proposed change would see that net-income eligibility reduced to $23,275 effective next summer.
“We were aware of what the NDP highlighted this morning so we are committed to ensuring that children of low-income families will not lose coverage,” Hoskins’ spokesperson Gabe De Roche told the Star.
Public-health units across the province are mandated to provide preventative dental care to children of low-income families, but Gélinas cautions that in northwestern Ontario only 80 of 4,000 children seen under the program last year would qualify under the new rules.
Preventive oral health services delivered by public health units, as mandated in the Ontario Public Health Standards, includes scaling, fluoride varnish and fixing cavities.
“We believe that investing in preventative dental care saves tens of millions of dollars in health-care costs down the road,” Gélinas told reporters. “That’s why I am greatly distressed by the Liberal plan to eliminate preventative dental care from the Ontario public-health standard.
Premier Kathleen Wynne fired back in the legislature that because of changes made earlier this year through the $30 million Healthy Smiles program, 70,000 more kids from low-income families are receiving dental care, but Dr. Melvin C. Hsu, manager, Dental and Oral Health Services at Toronto Public Health, told the Star that increase was taken into consideration when the board calculated that 15,600 children will lose preventative dental services.
“From our point of view we want to prevent disease and when you let disease progress it will cost much more and the health of the child suffers . . . and that means 15,000 children may be more vulnerable to oral disease,” Hsu said.
Opposition critics, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), public-health officials and families that benefit from the plan all agree the proposed change must be scrapped.
“If you leave someone without the ability to have dental work all of a sudden you are into an emergency department. That’s the most costly form of health care we can have. It’s absolutely ludicrous to lower those thresholds,” Tory MPP Bill Walker (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) said.
Stacey Bowen, a 54-year-old single mom living in Toronto, told reporters she benefited from the free dental-health services, as did her now-grown children.
“I really can’t believe what is going on right now,” she said.
Tim Maguire, president of local 79, CUPE, told the new conference every year hundreds of thousands of children are screened for dental-health issues.
“Last year we treated over 18,000 kids in the city of Toronto. If the new restricted rules proposed in the amalgamated dental-services program had been in place, 15,000 of those kids would have been denied access to dental-health care,” he said.
“We need to maintain and expand our dental-health services for children in need, not limit them,” he said, adding that the union is joining Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health in urging the province to maintain current eligibility.
Dr. Jonathon Maguire, Department of Pediatrics, St. Michael’s Hospital, and assistant professor, University of Toronto, emphasized that early preventive dental care is not only important for health reasons, it also saves money in the end.
“From a long-term point of view it is a no-brainer to have children receive early preventive dental care and this (government decision) is moving away from that,” Maguire said.
Dr. Sloane Freeman, pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital who works in elementary schools around Regent Park, said tooth decay can affect a child’s speech, growth, socialization and even nutrition.
“I do see the effects of poor dental care in children all the time and it does cause a multitude of problems. So, certainly we would want all children to have access to preventative dental care,” Freeman said.
Credit: Toronto Star