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‘Albertans need access to it’: Concern over Alberta opting out of national dental plan

Executive Director of Friends of Medicare, Chris Gallaway, speaks with Alberta Primetime host Michael Higgins about the provincial government’s decision to not take part in the national dental plan.

Michael Higgins: The premier sent the prime minister a letter back in June stating Alberta’s intention to opt out of the dental care plan by 2026. Your organization has since declared that unconscionable. What makes it so?

Chris Gallaway: It’s very frustrating and disappointing to see that. It’s a pattern of behavior of our provincial government where our premier is choosing a petty political fight with Ottawa over the health needs of Albertans.

She’s done it on long-term care, on pharmacare, now on dental care where the government’s saying ‘just let us out, give us a check, we don’t want to do or be part of anything’. It’s frustrating to see.

And when doing that, in her comments to the media, she has shared a lot of misinformation about dental care here in Alberta. She has created a lot of confusion and uncertainty for the over 100,000 Alberta seniors who are currently on the federal plan about whether they still have coverage and what’s going to happen to this coverage they so desperately needed.

It’s not helping. The role of our premier should be to the health of Albertans. Albertans expect our governments, who are elected to work together, to make that happen.

This is an opportunity to look at what the federal government is doing and for Alberta to add to that and help more people access the crucial dental care they need.

Dental Care is health care. Albertans need access to it, we expect better from our premier, and it’s very disappointing to see it be this political fight rather than outcome based decisions.

Michael Higgins: Why not though negotiate a share of the funding and apply those dollars to build out Alberta’s existing dental programs? Who’s to say Alberta isn’t in a better position to do so given provincial jurisdiction over dental care?

Chris Gallaway: In terms of provincial jurisdiction, this isn’t health care delivery, this is an insurance plan that folks in Canada can access if they do not have any other coverage. And I think that’s a crucial point.

Over 100,000, Alberta seniors have already joined this plan which means they had no other insurance option.

The premier talks about this as if it’s no big deal in Alberta, that somehow our plans are the best in the country, we don’t need this, just give us a check and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing.

That’s simply untrue. Alberta has the highest percentage of people who avoid dental care due to cost, we have some of the most expensive dental care in the country, and the thresholds for the provincial programs that only cover seven per cent of Albertans who can even access those are very low.

If you’re a single Albertan you’re looking at an income of $16,000 to get any assistance. And that’s not 100 per cent coverage, there’s caps, there’s copays on those programs, it’s very different than what’s on offer from the federal government.

The province should be exploring that plan and looking at how we work together with our provincial programs to make it better for everyone.

Michael Higgins: Given those provincial programs though, is there not a risk of duplication?

Chris Gallaway: In other provinces what we’ve seen is they’ve gone to the table with the federal government to synchronize those programs.

You cannot qualify for the federal dental plan if you have other coverage unless the province works with the federal government.

So we’re seeing that for folks living with disabilities and for folks living on very low incomes in other provinces.

The provinces are talking to the federal government about how to make the programs work together and work together well.

What the federal government is doing is an insurance plan. You get a Sunlife card, you go to the dentist, you claim against that.It’s not providing dental care in any way.

The province could absolutely come to the table right now and say, ‘Folks on AISH, seniors who are low income, how do we make sure they can benefit from what’s happening and that the programs work together?’ The province has opted not to do that and asked for a blank check.

Michael Higgins: The federal health minister was here on Alberta Primetime a few weeks back. He told us here in studio that his government is open to negotiations and is already working collaboratively with the province in areas like pharmacare to make something that works for Albertans. Why not have dental care part of that, that bigger mix?

Chris Gallaway: Well what we haven’t heard from the premier is really any desire to expand what the provincial dental care programs are to ensure folks are covered.

Over 100,000 Alberta seniors have already signed on, the program has expanded to include children, folks with disabilities, we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of Albertans who have no other dental care option signing on to this program.

We don’t see anything from the provincial government suggesting that they would have that type of coverage, that they are interested in expanding that type of coverage, they just want a check from the government.

And we saw the same attitude on pharmacare. The premier talks a lot about not being consulted and that’s part of the reason she wants out of these programs. Before the federal government can even put anything forward on pharmacare her government said ‘we want to opt out that’.

They didn’t even come to the table or hear what was being discussed before saying ‘Just give us a check, we don’t want to participate.’

Consultation and collaboration works two ways. It’s very clear that our premier is more interested in picking a fight with Ottawa, over and over heading into the next federal election, than actually improving health care.

Whether it’s drug coverage or dental coverage or other programs for Albertans, which is on the table right now. Coming from Ottawa there’s money and programs for people to access and the premier is saying no to those and trying to take them away.

Michael Higgins: When you were last on we discussed the spring sitting, specifically Bill 22 legislation paving the way for the government’s overhaul of health care. What’s your read on where that process currently stands?

Chris Gallaway: It’s a rocky road. July 1 was supposed to be the starting of Recovery Alberta, the new mental health and addictions care sector for Alberta.

The CEO was appointed and basically everything else has been delayed till Sept. 1.

They’re continuing to have a fight with the unions who are not getting the information they think they need on this transition, how it’s going to look, how it’s going to work, who’s working where, how’s it operating? So it’s very confusing and frustrating for our frontline health care workers.

It’s very unclear to folks who need that care what it’s going to look like and in theory, in the fall, we’re going to see continuing care, primary care and these other pieces starting up but we can’t even get the first one going.

So we’re very worried that it’s creating chaos, it’s creating uncertainty, and there’s not really a clear plan of how this is going to roll out or look as we head through the summer.

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